The fundamentalists in Iran appear finally to have emerged supreme in their long, drawn-out power struggle with the moderates. But in their scramble to strip President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr of his power, the fundamentalists have plunged the country into a deep political crisis.
The Iranian President's chances for political survival, following his ouster this week as chief commander of the armed forces, looked bleak June 11 as informed sources leaked the news that he was considering resigning his job as head of state.
Despite his military demotion, however, observers noted he still enjoyed strong support among the nation's military officers and that the mullahs' move to topple a popularly elected leader and concentrate power into their own hands may boomerang in the long run.
One military officer is reported to have told foreign correspondents in Iran shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini dismissed BaniSadr from his job as commander in chief: "So long as Khomeini is alive, things will not settle down in Iran." This officer's rank was not very high, but his mood seemed to reflect that of a cross section of the military.
Bani-Sadr's support among the civilian population is high today, but the mood among his followers after the Ayatollah Khomeini's blistering speech against the President on June 8 was one of despondency and confusion.
A foreign correspondent who spoke to a supporter of Bani-Sadr shortly afterward reported that he said: "It is not the Imam's fault, it is those who surround him who have been poisoning his mind against Bani-Sadr." He saw Khomeini's position today as parallel to that of the shah, who was also said to have been fed with wrong advise and information by his courtiers.
Neither the military officer's view nor that of Bani-Sadr's civilian supporter presented Khomeini in a favorable light, but political observers have expresed strong doubt that Bani-Sadr will take any move against Ayatollah Khomeini. The President told reporters recently, "I will not stand against the Imam," and he is believed to have meant it.
But he may still attempt to maneuver against his fundamentalist enemies. Reports said that, while he is considering resignation, he also may be trying to dissolve the Iranian parliament -- but observers who have been looking at the Iranian Constitution find no article under which he could do that.
If anything, the constitutional chips are stacked high against the President.There are several clauses in the Constitution that would make dissolution difficult, including one that says, "At no time can the country be without a national assembly."
It appears then that contrary to what BaniSadr's aides have told correspondents, the President will not be able to rid the country of the Mullah-dominated Majlis by sacrificing his job as head of state.
At best, as one observer pointed out, a Bani-Sadr resignation may preempt an expected move by the mullahs to have Khomeini dismiss the President.
But Bani-Sadr's archenemy, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, could try to have him dismissed under Article 110 of the Constitution, which says that if the Supreme Court decides the President has "violated his legal function," Khomeini would have to dismiss him.
Beheshti is the Supreme Court's chief justice.
Meanwhile, part of the despondency among the Iranian public, correspondents say, arises from concern about the war with Iraq, now in its ninth month. One Iranian woman is reported to have asked with tears in her eyes, "What is going to happen to this country? What about the war?"
But correspondents who have been to the front say the regional Iranian commanders do not believe the Iraqis will make any major move for the simple reason that they do not have enough personnel now to do so.
This may be wishful thinking, particularly if the Iraqis decide to take advantage of the plunge in the morale of the Iranian Army officers following the removal of Bani-Sadr from his job as armed-forces commander.
Another military officer is reported to have said, "We could do much better in this world if only these goings-on in high places would stop."
Meanwhile Iran appeared on the brink of an internal political upheaval as demonstrations took place in the street of the Iranian capital over the last three days. There were demonstrations both for and against BaniSadr. When a major earthquake hit Kermanshah June 11 seemed almost like a terrible warning.