By delivering his sharpest rebuke ever to Iran's fundamentalist clergy Feb. 11, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini may have taken out some of the fire President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was expected to direct at the mullahs in a speech the same day.
Correspondent Bill Baker writes that by delivering the attack himself, observers believe, Ayatollah Khomeini was trying to preserve the respect for the mullahs that many Iranians still have. He did not, however, pull his punches. "I remind the clergy who are serving in the courts, the komitehs [committees], the Reconstruction Jihad, and other organizations," he said, "not to meddle in any way in affairs for which they have no competence." Not only were they doing so illegally, "It is also among the big and unforgivable sins, because it would make the nation look at the clergy in a bad light and separate the nation from the clergy." As a result, this would "cause a grievous injury to Islam."
This part of Ayatollah Khomeini's message, read by his son, Sayed Ahmad, at the Freedom Square ceremony, was repeated twice, slowly and deliberately, to emphasize the importance of the passage.
Mr. Bani-Sadr himself could not have delivered such a sharp attack on his fundamentalist rivals without causing clashes and bloodshed. Coming from Ayatollah Khomeini, it may have a sobering effect on the Islamic Republican Party chiefs -- none of whom were in Tehran when the rebuke was delivered .