With the hostage issue still unresolved, Iran appears to be heading for another internal crisis -- as pressure builds up on Prime minister Muhammad ali Rajai to resign.
The sentiment against Mr. Rajai is seen as another result of the power struggle between fundamentalists and moderates in Iran, but the latest attack on the prime minister has come from a new direction -- the merchants.
The bazaar shopkeepers, who have claimed they financed the revolution against the Shah, have accused the present Iranian government of such inflationary steps as circulating currency notes in the market without sufficient monetary backing.
Significantly, the merchants' attack was made in the newspaper of a secularist group leg by Karim Sanjabi, a leading figure in the struggle against the Shah. The merchants said that club-wielding fundamentalist ruffians recently had attacked their homes and family members.
Some political sources say in Tehran that Mr. Rajai may hand in his resignation to President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr within the next few days, and if that were to happen the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) would propose Jelaluddin Farsi as premier. Mr. Farsi is a hard-liner who won a majority of votes in a party caucus last summer but was strongly opposed at the time by Mr. Bani- Sadr.
The Iranian President is still opposed to Mr. Farsi and has rejected suggestions that he should be named foreign minister in the Rajai Cabinet. Although as Islamic fundamentalist, Mr. farsi recently suggested at a public rally that Iran should opposed the United States by purchasing arms "from the same source that Cuba did."
IRP chief Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, meanwhile, has rejected the call for the resignation of Mr. Rajai. He told a Friday prayer meeting in Tehran last week that "this government will stay at least until the end of the current term of the Majlis [parliament]."
Mr. Rajai himself indicated in an address Jan. 5 that he had no intention of resigning. He described his attackers as "destructive elements" who were "filling history with your treason." Mr. Rajai challenged: "If you have a better program, announce it so that the people my judge. If the program is capable of being implemented, I shall make it the duty of the government to implement it."
The fundamentalists now have begun to hit back Mr. Bani-Sadr, seen to be at the head of the current moderate anticlerical moves in Iran. They have accused him, as commander-in-chief of Iran's armed forces, of delaying a counteroffensive against Iraq.
Perhaps in response to this pressure, the President announced Jan. 5 that the long- awaited Iranian counteroffensive had started, according to Iranian television.
Earlier, Ayatollah Beheshti argued for an offensive, claiming that in recent weeks the Iraqis had shown themselves to be at their weakest, while the condition of the Iranian forces was "better and more hopeful."
Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, another top clergyman, took a similar line in Qom. Mr. Bani-Sadr answered by inviting montazeri to visit the front and see the conditions for himself. Montazeri rejected the invitation, saying he was visited by a sufficient number of young people from the front and was fully informed of conditions there.
The fundamentals have accused Mr. Bani-Sadr of being largely responsible for the weakness of the Rajai Cabinet, by refusing to give his approval for the appointment of three key ministers -- those for foreign affairs, economy, and commerce. They claim Rajai has proposed several names for each portfolio but that Bani-Sadr has rejected all of them.
One prominent mullah said: "Mr. Bani- Sadr should show more confidence in Mr. Rajai, who has, after all, received the votes of 150 Majlis deputies."
Secularists meanwhile are delighted that Bani-Sadr is making a stand against the mullahs. Said one mullah: "I did not vote for Bani-sadr last year. I voted for [Rear Adm. Ahmad] Madami but this was because I did not know Bani-Sadr too weel then.
"Now I know him better and if there were to be a referendum tomorrow, I would vote for him. If Bani-Sadr received 10 million votes last year, I am sure that if a referendum is held tomorrow, he would receive 17 million.
"People are backing him because he is standing against the mullahs. Don't get me wrong. I respect [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini; he has ensured a place for himself in Iranian history because he toppled the Shah. But when he was in Paris he repeatedly said the mullahs would not interfere in state affairs when the regime changed. Now we see something different."
Demonstrations in support of President Bani-Sadr have continued in several cities, but the mullahs have been using religious occasions to organize counterdemonstrations, at the end of which speeches and resolutions critical of the Iranian President and his moderate supporters are read.