War boosts Bani-Sadr but Iran's mullahs grow suspicious

One effect of the Iran-Iraq war has been the renewed importance it has given to Iranian Army officers. Several generals imprisoned earlier on suspicion of opposing the regime have been released to join the war effort. Others who were sent into compulsory retirement by teh country's Muslim mullahs have been given their jobs back.

The one man who is regarded as most influential in restoring the generals to some of their former prestige is President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. This and other Actions by the Iranian President have been making him noticeably popular among the officer corps.

But as the President's popularity among the officers has increased, the mullahs apparently have become increasingly uneasy. There was speculation among secular Iranians tired of the extremism of the mullahs that the President would "stage a coup" against the religious leaders, with the help of the officers.

Unlikely though this may sound, the possibilities recently have been whispered in Tehran in all seriousness.

As the split between the secular group led by President Bani-Sadr and the religous fundamentalists grew, Ayatollah Khomeini appeared to take a neutral stand. However, on Oct. 12 the Ayatollah suddenly took action that seemed to be an attempt to curb Mr. Bani-Sadr's growing power.

Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree ordering the setting up of a supreme military council to run war affairs and to take all decisions concerning defense matters.

Although Mr. Bani-Sadr retained the top job in the council, it included some hard-line mullahs, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, defense adviser to Khomeini. Mr. Bani-Sadr told a television reporter after the decree was announced that he himself had proposed it to the Imam (Khomeini) in ordet to speed up the decisionmaking process in defense matters.

Iranian observers, however, do not take this at its face value. The general belief is that the Ayatollah has simply clipped President Bani-Sadr's wings.

The setting up of the council also seemed to rule out the possibility of a partial cease-fire on the Shatt al arab waterway at the head of the Gulf to enable ships trapped by the war to leave the area. Ayatollah Khamenei told a reporter after the council was set up: "Any decision on a cease-fire will be taken by the supreme military council."

Meanwhile, three days after the Iraqi push across the Karun River and toward Abadan, the Iranian news media reported the presence of the Iraqis on the outskirts of Abadan for the first time Oct. 15. Kayhan newspaper reported that the Iraqis had been pushed back an average of two kilometers along the Abadan front.

Mr. Bani-Sadr has continued to say that the Iranians are following a war plan , part of which is to allow the Iraqis to get themselves into a trap.

"The more they come in, the more they put themselves into the trap," he points out. "We cannot send troops to every point where they call for help. If we did that we would be dividing up our forces. We have a plan, and we must follow it."

Whatever the plan is, it appeared either undergoing change or getting finishing touches after the supreme defense council was set up. Ayatollah Khamenei told reporters after the first meeting of the council: "We discussed the defense plan in this meeting, but we are still working on it."

Also endangered, meanwhile, are two cities farther north of Abadan, Dezful and Ahvaz.

Iranian reports say their forces prevented the Iraqis from putting a pontoon bridge across the Karun River about 20 miles southwest of Ahvaz. This would indicate that a considerable stretch of territory between Khorramshahr and Ahvaz is already in Iraqi hands.

Official propaganda continually harps on the high morale of the men, most of whom are seen to be fighting for Islam. A remark heard repeatedly in the fighting area is: "I will fight to the last drop of my blood for Islam and for Imam Khomeini."

Said Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai recently: "When we made a call for volunteers to go the front, we were faced with 60,000 applicants though we had only 10,000 rifles to spare." The remaining 50,000 were asked to return home.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.