Iran's mullahs under siege

The beginning of a truly armed resistance to the radical Islamic rule of the clergy may be under way in Iran. Danger comes from the armed left. The fundamentalists' prime concern now is the suppression of the militant left following the June 28 bomb attack on the Tehran headquarters of the dominant Islamic Republican Party. The blast wiped out a large segment of the country's leadership.

Though the fundamentalists have attempted to wrest absolute control of the country following the downfall of President Bani-Sadr -- in the process sending many of his supporters to the firing squad -- the leftist Mujahideen guerrillas have chosen not to lie low until the storm passed.

They distributed inflammatory leaflets in Tehran one day after the bombing that killed, among others, Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, regarded by many as second only to Ayatollah Khomeini in political importance. The leaflets called on the population to stay home in the evening because they were planning to attack their fundamentalist foes.

If the mullahs succeed in quelling the kind of violent resistance that has erupted in recent days, the way will be open for the imposition of the ruling Islamic Republican Party's program of economic conservatism, Muslim morality, and enforced political unanimity.

But there is no guarantee that opposition to such authoritarian control would be limited only to the leftists.

Diplomats in the Iranian capital speculate about possible moves by Iranian armed forces unhappy about the ouster of President Bani-Sadr, who was a popular commander in chief of the armed forces until he was summarily dismissed.

Bani-Sadr, reportedly still in hiding, spent most of his time since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war on Sept. 22 last year touring the fronts, apparently preferring the camaraderie among the military to the increasingly hostile political atmosphere of the capital.

He secured the release of dozens of jailed officers suspected of complicity in a coup attempt uncovered last July. The move brought vehement criticism from Iran's clergy, who began to strip him of his power and finally ousted him from office.

The former President's supporters have repeatedly said that the military is firmly behind him and that but for the war it might become a significant force in Iranian politics. Following Bani-Sadr's ouster, soldiers pledged thier first loyalty in wartimem was to their country and to its spiritual leader.

Yet one senior officer hinted privately that after the end of the war the Army might take a more active role in what he calls defending freedom.

A further potential source of opposition are the bazaaris, Iran's powerful traditional merchants class, which played a key role in the overthrow of the Shah. Frustrated by the economic policy of the new regime, the bazaaris have few kind words for the mullahs, whom they accuse of interfering in every sphere of life and of corrupting the revolution.

Last November, the short-lived arrest of former Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotzbadeh sparked a massive protest against the mullahcracy and in favor of restricting the clergy's political influence. The bazaaris complained about the "lack of political freedom" in postrevolutionary Iran and warned they might hobble the country with a strike like they did during the struggle against the Shah.

A plea by Ayatollah Khomeini to preserve national unity in the wake of the Iraqi attack on Iran's southern oil province of Khuzestan smothered the evolving mass protest against the fundamentalist Islamic Republican Party. The Bazaaris promised to bide their time, committing themselves to political change once the war had ended. Sunday's dramatic events may influence them to reconsider their position.

Iran's Islamic government is expected to move quickly following the bloody attack on the country's leadership.

Ayatollah Beheshti, Iran's chief justice and leader of the IRP, and at least 23 other political leaders were killed when a massive bomb blast destroyed the headquarters of Iran's dominant political party Sunday night. The only senior Iranian figure not at the meeting was Ayatollah Khomeini. The bomb went off as Ayatollah Beheshti was addressing more than 90 leading politicians, including Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai and Majlis (parliament) speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Both Mr. Rajai and Mr. Rafsanjani were reported safe, but at least 81 parliamentary deputies and three Cabinet ministers were among those killed.

Radio Tehran announced the government would soon take "certain measures." It did not go into details, but swift and harsh government retaliation for the slaughter of their revolutionary brothers is almost inevitable.

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