Gunbattles in streets of Tehran become daily event

Gunbattles between young left-wing Islamic Mujahideen guerrillas and edgy Revolutionary Guards are fast becoming a daily feature in Tehran. The scene: rush hour on downtown Tehran's Mossadeq Avenue Sept. 15.

A small armed group forces a municipal transit bus to grind to a halt. The passengers are ushered off the bus, which is then set on fire. Columns of black smoke and cries of "death to Khomeini" rise in the air.

Suddenly shots ring out. A handful of urban guerrillas turn downtown Tehran into a battlefield. Minibuses filled with Revolutionary Guards, some of them sitting on the roof with their rifles cocked, are rushed to the scene.

The crowds of Iranians -- out shopping or on their way home from work -- are torn between curiosity and fear. As the battle intensifies, they flee into the "kutches," small alleys branching off Tehran's main streets. Almost two hours later, a car pulls up, the Mujahideen climb in, and the battle is over.

Battles like this, usually occuring simultaneously in four of five parts of the city, have become commonplace in Tehran. But despite the disruption and the danger to hundreds of innocent passersby caught in the fire, Iranians appear to carry no grudge against the young Mujahideen guerrillas.

"Curiosity and a sense of admiration for the courage of the Mujahideen surges through the crowds at moments like this," says a Tehran housewife caught Sept. 15 for the second time in what the Mujahideen call an "armed demonstration."

"Most people in Tehran remain passive," says one informed source in the Iranian capital. "Three years ago, they had something to risk their lives for," he adds. "Now it all seems senseless, nothing is worth the risk."

Iran's resistance seems bent on escalating its confrontation with the fundamentalist regime. But to many Iranians the resistance does not yet represent a viable alternative. Says one Tehran resident: "How long can such a situation last? Who knows what direction events will take? Do the guerrillas have the resources, taking the wave of executions into account, to keep this up for very long? Everybody wants an answer but nobody has one."

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