Ankara, Turkey — The Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization has gained tremendously in popularity with ordinary Iranians over the past two months. Part of this popularity is due to the fact that they are getting rid of the mullahs by assassination and other means, something that no other opposition group has been able to do so far.
Thus the Mujahideen have offered the first hard proof that the mullahs are vulnerable, though they, too, have also suffered heavy casualties in the armed struggle.
"It's the beginning of the second revolution," one well-placed Iranian told me recently just before I left Tehran.
There is a widespread belief in Iran that the regime won't survive if Ayatollah Khomeini to die.
"Khomeini must not die," one Mujahideen supporter told me firmly. "He must live and stand trial once we have overthrown this regime."
The Revolutionary Guard which is currently keeping the mullahs in power appears to be in a state of siege. Roadblocks have been set up near the centers and komitehs (security organizations) where the guards have their bases, and it is no longer safe to move about in the big cities at night.
the guards are so nervous, even in their own bases, that if a passing driver does not obey their call of "Halt!" he is likely to get fired on.
Guards stop and search vehicles coming anywhere near their roadblocks because the Mujahideen have driven right up to their bases, attacking them with bombs, Molotov cocktails, submachine guns, and even pistols.
My own car was stopped a few days ago, and as the revolutionary guards searched under the seats and in the trunk for arms I could sense that they were nervous and jumpy. I felt that if I made one false move they would have opened fire on me first and asked questions later.
There is good reason for this jumpiness. Guards are getting killed every day and every night by the Mujahideen and other leftist guerrillas. The heavy toll of guerrillas executed in the last two months has not been as one-sided as the regime's propaganda machine has attempted to show.
The mullahs deliberately play down the regime's losses. An example of this can be taken from the incident of July 24, the day of the presidential election. The state-controlled media said a total of five people were killed in incidents in the capital. These, by their account, included two revolutionary guards killed in an attack on one of the komitehs in the northwestern part of Tehran.
But one Mujahideen guerrilla I met shortly afterwards told me with a smile he "killed 16 of the guards that day." And he was talking about just one guerrilla operation in the northwestern part of Tehran.
It is commonplace in Tehran today to be wakened at odd hours of the night by the sound of gunfire or explosions, some close by and loud, others distant and muzzled. It is just as commonplace to hear loud bangs and the crackle of gunfire at odd hours of the day as well.
I was entertaining friends on an otherwise quiet afternoon recently when a massive explosion near the prime minister's office shook the entire city.
The government statement said the Mujahideen had placed a bomb in a car which they had parked in front of the gate of a medical institute visited every day by hundreds of people. This turned out not to be the fact.
A military source described it later. It was the revolutionary guards themselves who placed the car there.
As the story went, the car with the time bomb was discovered by guards in front of the prime ministry's main building about 150 yards farther up the road. This was supposed to be within a high-security area which had been cordoned off four days before. How the car got there was a mystery.
Without further ado the guards pushed the car back to a point just outside the cordoned- off area, in front of the medical institute's gate, not bothering to search it. A little while later bombs went off killing three people and injuring several others.
In one incident an old man approached a komiteh in uptown Tehran and asked for a drink of water. The guards let him in. After he left the komiteh they received a telephone call warning them that the old man had left a bomb behind.
The guards immediately called a bomb squad and vacated the premises. As they stood outside the building along the far side of the road a van approached. It passed. The rear doors flew open and a machine gun emerged. The revolutionary guards lining the road were mowed down.