US scapegoat wears thin for Khomeini

Chaos seems increasingly to threaten revolutionary Iran.Ritual tirades against "US imperialism" seem less and less able to hide, let alone heal, the country's divisions. Only the charisma of a single man, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, keeps things more or less intact, Monitor correspondent Ned Temko reports.

The Ayatollah's appeal remains enormous. Amid increasing internal unrest, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets Jan. 6 in support of him. Yet public unrest has reached a crescendo as the revolution nears its first anniversary.

* Pro-autonomy militants in the northwest province of Azerbaijan have been skirmishing with pro- Khomeini revolutionary guards. In early January, thousands of Azerbaijanis wielding clubs or long knives clashed with guards in Qom -- literally bringing their struggle close to the home of Ayatollah Khomeini.

* Provincial violence also has flared in Kurdistan, Baluchistan in the southeast, and the southwest oil region. Clashes there Jan. 6 took at least several dozen lives.

* In Tehran, meanwhile, leftists have clashed with Muslim militants loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini. The hostage-holding at the US Embassy has highlighted divisions between pro-Khomeini youths, such as the embassy captors, and senior members of the government.

* Embassy attacks now seem to be contagious. Afghanis have mobbed the Afghan Embassy and the Soviet Mission (twice) in recent days to protest Moscow's intervention in Afghanistan.

The unrest occurred against a backdrop of economic and governmental stagnation. Many of Ayatollah Khomeini's government ministers, particularly Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, seem unsure just how much authority they have. A second- echelon official in the Foreign Ministry, asked by this reporter what his department actually did, replied with a smile: "That's an excellent question."

Mr. Ghotbzadeh in effect has asked the Ayatollah for a ruling on who is in charge of handling the embassy crisis, the Foreign Minister or the student captors.As of this writing, there had been no clear response from Qom, and some diplomats speculated that Mr. Ghotbzadeh might become the third Foreign Minister to quit or be sacked since the Nov. 4 embassy attack.

Since all depends on Ayatollah Khomeini, no one can be sure of the effect of Iran's internal woes on the fate of the embassy hostages. Some analysts feel the Ayatollah will begin moving toward a resolution of that impasse so that he can tackel more pressing problems on the home front.

Other analysts say just the opposite -- that since there seems no easy solution to Iran's own difficulties, Ayatollah Khomeini will hold on to the embassy as a desperate, if increasingly ineffective, diversion.

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