Iranian war of words may lead Bani-Sadr to step down

President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr has once again issued a thinly-veiled threat that he may resign his job as Iranian head of state because of his difficulties with the ruling Islamic fundamentalists.

The threat is the second in less than five months.

"This is not a republic of which I am proud to be president," he wrote in his newspaper Enghalab-e-Islami. His bitter statement came at the end of a hot, week-long war of words between Iran's mullahs and the opposition moderates.

Mr. Bani-Sadr is probably one of the very few heads of state in the world who also finds himself heading the opposition. His latest quarrel with the mullahs began March 15 when a group of about 150 fundamentalist ruffians repeatedly interrupted his speech at Tehran University on the anniversary of former Premier Muhammad Mossadegh's death.

Losing his patience, Mr. Bani-Sadr first asked the police to expel them. Seeing the police take no action, he asked his audience of about 75,000 people to isolate the troublemakers and then to help "push them out peacefully."

The precedent for this had been set a week earlier when former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi asked a crowd of about the same size to "move away" from a similar (if not identical) group of fundamentalists "so that everyone can see who they are."

Without using violence the crowd gently pushed the hecklers out.

At Bani-Sadr's speech, however, the fundamentalists had already angered everyone else by parading a provocative cloth banner showing Mossadegh kissing the hand of former Queen Soraya.

When Bani-Sadr asked his audience to "peacefully push out" the troublemakers, the crowd, almost all pro- Mossadegh secularists, turned on the hecklers and beat them up.

Repeatedly calling for calm, the President asked the crowd to "hand over those you arrest to the security forces." Two people were severely hurt and perhaps a score of others sustained minor injuries.

And as the president continued his speech, members of his personal bodyguard brought in knives, chains, and a revolver taken from the ruffians arrested by the crowd.

Identity cards found on them showed that they were members of several revolutionary organizations including the Revolutionary Guards Corps and a number of Komitehs. One was a member of the Prime Ministry Special Force.

The discovery of knives and other weapons seemed to justify the term "clubwielder" Bani-Sadr had used to describe the ruffians. The crowd chanted in derision, "The poor clubwielder has a Komiteh card!"

Opening the fundamentalists' counterattack was Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a founding member of the Islamic Republican Party.

Addressing a Friday prayer gathering, at exactly the, same time next day, he charged that "filthy elements" had "caused clashes at yesterday's gathering, beat up religious and devoted elements, and insulted the revolutionary organization." In rapid succession other mullahs let loose volley after volley of violent words against the president.

Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali, Iran's "hanging judge," who is also a Majlis deputy made a heated speech in Iran's Majlis (parliament) calling for Bani-Sadr to be put on trial.

Speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani spent about half an hour of Majlis time in an emotional attack on the president, repeating the Khamenei charge that Iran's revolutionary organization had been insulted.

Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai went on state television with a half-hour speech in which he accused Bani-Sadr of encouraging the Islamic leftists, the Mujahadin-e-khalq guerrilla organization. His executive affairs minister Behzad Nabavi expanded on that theme declaring that the Mujahadin had tried to use the opportunity to "liberate" the northern town of Lahijan, where they tried to "settle accounts with the Revolutionary Guards" but failed.

Rounding off the attack were Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, Iran's chief justice, who told reporters he did not rule out the possibility of the president being tried. The Supreme Court, he said, had the right to do so.

Throughout the controversy Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has kept silent in his temporary home in northern Tehran. Certainty observers believe if Bani-Sadr were to carry out his threat of resigning, if would throw Iran into chaos. The chances are that he still may do so once the war with Iraq is over.

But the question on everyone's mind seemed to be: Would Khomeini keep his threat of "taking away everything I have given anyone"?

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