the discovery of a conspiracy to overthrow the Islamic republic of Ayatollah Khomeini has intensified the polarization that has emerged within the country between the fundamentalists and secular leaders.
News of the attempted coup has brought calls, mainly from the fundamentalists dominating the country, for more purges in the armed forces.
More than 300 people, mostly military personnel, have been arrested so far. In a move aimed at preventing any fugitives from escaping, Iran's Revolutionary Council sealed the country's land, sea, and air borders for 48 hours. The ban was still in effect at this writing.
But demands in the clergy-dominated Iranian Parliament to purge the military, already weakened by morale, have caused not only uneasiness, but also produced some resistance in secular circles.
In a warning to Parliament, Iran's Defense Minister, Mustafa Chamran, said:
"We have to decide whether we are going to have an army at all. If we are not going to have one, there's nothing more to say. But if we do want to have an army, let us not weaken it o the extent that any foreign power can walk in the occupy the country."
President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr who has come under increasing pressure from the fundamentalists in recent months spoke along the same lines in a television inteview shortly afterward. After all, he noted, it was Army personnel who made the first disclosures about the conspiracy.
Yet neither the pleas of General Chamran nor the assurances of President Bani-Sadr have been able to cool fundamentalist tempers. If anything, the conspiracy has whetted the clergy's appetite for an even greater hold on the country
Islamic associations affiliated with the party have now been set up in practically every government office and institution in the country, both private and state owned. It is through these associations that the party is able to wield tremendous influence on the affairs of the country.
Mr. Bani-Sadr has not so far been able to set up similar associations, though he has won over to his side several independent associations and societies.
The President has hinted at a power struggle going on even at the grass-roots level. He appealed to "Muslim brothers" not to resort to settling scores arising out of squabbles among Islam-based political groups, which were going on even when the battle against the Shah was still at its height.
Against this atmosphere, Mr. Bani-Sadr is expected over the weekend to announce his choice for a prime minister, now that the Parliament is ready to bein its "official" sanctions.
One of these sanctions is to give its vote of approval to the premier and his Cabinet. It is not quite certain yet whether President Bani-Sadr's choice will in fact be approved. If he isn't, the fundamentalists will have won an important battle in the current power struggle.
The Islamic Republican Party (IRP), dominated by fundamentalist clergymen, are already using their disclosures about the coup to launch an attack on the National Front (NF), made up of former leiutenants ousted in the 1953 coup).
A prominent IRP leader obliquely implied in a press conference that the front was linked to the conspirators. But the party's newspaper the next day came out with a banner headline bluntly stating that the NF was in fact involved in the plot.
The front's office in Isfahan was attacked, and NF leaders in Tehran braced for similar attacks on the officers in the capital.
The atmosphere of suspicion against the front became so heavy that even President Bani-Sadr thought it necessary to explain that he had no links with the front even when Mossadeq was alive.
He said he had written secretly to Mossadeq in the early 1960s asking him to dissolve the front because it was a rallying point for secular leaders who believed in the slogan: "Ten years later without religion."
But supporters of the front, including former Navy chief Rear Adm. Ahmad Madani, accused the IRP of being "monopolists" [in the political sense], who were trying to eliminate all opposition from the scene.
What Bani-Sadr and Madani have in common was that both felt threatened by the fundamentalists. The president, who tends to be very circumspect when talking about his struggle with the IRP, accused them of trying to control the state radio and television.