Iran's militant clergy and moderates move to end bitter rivalry

President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and a group of Tehran mullahs have moved to ease tension in Iran between the fundamentalists and the moderates, amid reports of increasing violence between the two groups in the provinces.

The Militant Clergyman's Association in the Iranian capital, which assisted Mr. Bani-Sadr in his election campaign a year ago, arranged for him to have a meeting with Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajal and other fundamentalists such as Majlis (parliament) Speaker Hojatolislam Hashemi Rafsanjani.

At the meeting, agreement was reached between the two sides to stop making public statements attacking each other. A special commission meanwhile is to investigate grievances on either side.

Analysts believed the move would result at best in a temporary truce. Previous understandings such as this have broken down, it wa pointed out.

Mr. Bani-Sadr said in a column in his own newspaper, Inqilab-i Islanmi, that his outburst in Tehran Nov. 19 was the result of the violation of a previous such gentlemen's agreement when his chief rival of power, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, attacked him on the state television network. The pre Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Significantly, Ayatollah Beheshti himself was not present at the meeting arranged by the militant clergymen. He was instead on a tour of provincial towns making speeches believed to be aimed at whipping up as much support as possible for the mullahs.

The beheshti tour coincided with demonstrations both for and against the mullahs in at least a dozen Iranian cities. Such clashes have resulted in several deaths in two provincial towns. Exact statistics on the casualties are not yet available, but some reports said about 50 have died in one town alone.

In the town of Amol on the Caspian Sea coast, students who were the most ardent supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini against the Shah two years ago now are reported to be raising the loudest slogans against the mullahs. The news media in Tehran reported the Amol clashes as between the Islamic leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization and the fundamentalist Islamic Associations. The reported toll in Amol was three dead, 150 injured.

The series of demonstrations, countermarches, and rallies began in the religious center of Mashhad after a speech there by Majlis deputy Ahmed Salamatian. Crowds at the rally he addressed marched through the town calling:

"Death to Beheshti! Death to Rafsanjani! Death to Khamenei!" The last figure named is Tehran's Friday prayer leader. All three were founding members of the Islamic Republican Party.

The crowd also tore up pictures of Ayatollah Hussein Montazeri, earlier tipped as Khomeini's likely successor in his role as Iran's top religious guide on state affairs.

The mullahs, who have become experts in the last two years at organizing instant marches of their own, fought back. In one such countermarch in Isfahan, which was Salamatian's constituency in the parliamentary elections, a call was made for the removal of the deputy from the Majlis.

Salamatian, who played a prominent part in the revolution against the Shah, was Mr. Bani-sadr's campaign manager in the presidential election last January. He was one of the men Bani-sadr considered appointing prime minister, before mr. Rajai was foisted on Iran by the Fundamentalists. Salamatian has emerged as the most out-spoken of the secularists in the Majlis.

But although the rift in Iran is roughly between the secularists and the mullahs, one prominent figure seen in the Bani-Sadr camp is Ayatollah Hassan Lahouti, the first commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He was forced to resign from that post more than a year ago.

Ayatollah Lahouti has been outspoken in his criticism of the fundamentalists, more outside the Majlis, of which he is also a member, than within it. In a series of addresses on state television (before it fell completely under fundamentalist control), he delighted viewers by criticizing mullahs for their hypocrisy, accusing them of adopting a luxurious style of living while preaching simplicity and self-denial.

He has attacked the methods adopted by the revolutionary organizations such as the komitehs (committees), and spoken agaist the idea of exporting Iran's Revolution. "Is this kind of revolution we are going to export?" he asked. "Let us first improve our own behavior before we ask others to follow our example."

In alignments that are emerging for and against President Bani-Sadr, one figure who could prove dangerous to the president is Sayed Hussein Khomeini, a grandson of the Imam. The younger Khomeini charged in an interview that people such as former foreign ministers Yazdi and Sadeq Ghotbzadeh were assembling "under Bani-Sadr's umbrella against the Imam," though they had earlier opposed the President.

Bani-Sadr refused to duck the challenge. e shot back: "Does it upset Sayed Hussein that they now support me?"

But the President still bows to Khomeini senior. "The only man who can overturn me today is the Imam," he said.

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.