Iran's new clerics tilt closer to Moscow

Turkish-speaking, anti-Western clerics have taken over most of the key positions in Iran. What this means in practical terms is that the West may expect to see Iran lean noticeably closer to the communist bloc and the hard-line, pro-Moscow Arab states. Moves in this direction have already begun.

These changes in the leadership in Iran have also brought about subtle changes in the tone of Iran's propaganda. There has recently been no condemnation by the Iranian government of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, for instance. And though Ayatollah Khomeini's speeches are still stridently anti-Western, his anti-Soviet remarks have been toned down.

It is, in fact, one of the greatest ironies in Iran today that the ruling mullahs should be internally at war with a leftist group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq , while at the same time drifting externally closer to the communist bloc.

Moscow and its Iranian protege, the Tudeh Party, have done nothing to discourage the bloody crackdown on the Islamic leftist guerrillas. The Tudeh Party recently issued a statement saying that the execution of several hundred Mujahideen in the past four months for acts of terrorism and ''armed demonstration'' against the regime was justifiable.

And while the West may have been gratified at seeing the decimation of the leadership of the Islamic Republican Party, the Tudeh Party appears to have gained most. This is because the mullahs who have so far been eliminated, by assassination or otherwise, are the ones who might have steered a gradual course of rapprochement with the West, if and when the time was right.

Ayatollah Muhammad Beheshti, for example, had long been suspected of having pro-West sentiments, and it is widely known that he met with American Embassy officials before the hostage crisis began in November 1979. Beheshti himself was not responsible for the embassy takeover.

The man responsible for that was a hard-line strongly anti- Western mullah who was mentor to the students in the embassy throughout the crisis: Hojatolislam Muhammad Musavi Khoeyni. Then an obscure cleric, he has now become a leading figure in the Islamic Republican Party and is deputy speaker in the Iranian Majlis (parliament).

Khoeyni, in fact, belongs to the group of Turkish-speaking hard-liners who are now seen to be controlling the party. At their head is Iran's President: Hojatolislam Sayed Ali Khamenei, who was elected three weeks ago without making a single campaign speech.

The pace of events in Iran over the past few weeks has been so rapid that few observers realized what was happening until Khamenei's election. Now most of the key positions in Iran's present political system are in the hands of hardliners like Khamenei.

These men include Hojatolislam Hussein Musavi Tabrizi, who took over as the revolutionary prosecutor-general after his predecessor was killed in a bomb blast. Another new leader is Ayatollah Musavi Ardebili who took over Ayatollah Beheshti's job as chief justice. Mir Hossein Musavi has taken the sensitive job of foreign minister.

(One hard-liner, however, Ali Akbar Vellayati, who had been nominated by President Khamenei to be Iran's new prime minister, was rejected by the Majlis Oct. 22.)

One of Foreign Minister Musavi's first official moves was a trip to Libya, obstensibly to attend a Steadfastness and Confrontation Front conference. The Front consists of Arab hardliners Libya, Algeria, Syria, South Yemen, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was not lost on informed observers that Libya was the country where President Khamenei received training as a terrorist, and that Mr. Musavi sometimes adds ''Khamenei'' to his name. Both Libya and South Yemen now have embassies in Tehran, something that the ''liberal'' relatively pro-Western government of Mehdi Bazargan did everything to prevent.

And while the political maneuvering goes on, so too does the struggle against the Mujahideen - referred to in the official propaganda as ''pro-American hypocrites.''

The guerrillas have suffered heavily over the last four months. There have been at least 2,100 officially acknowledged executions in Iran since June 20. The majority of those shot were Mujahideen e-Khalq guerrillas or their supporters. The regime also claims to have another 8,000 of them in prison, and scores of new arrests are being reported every day.

But, as one Tehran resident contacted by telephone says, perhaps the greatest disappointment suffered by the Islamic leftists is that the general uprising they were expecting from the Iranian public did not materialize.

The reason may be that the general public were too terrified by the fierce reaction to the Mujahideen's attempts to topple the regime.

The atrocities may have something to do with the general character of the Turkish-speaking Azerbaijanis now in power. A harsh people, they have a violent history.

But the struggle can hardly be said to be over. The mullahs have too many opponents waiting in the wings to take them on, even if the Mujahideen are eliminated. Still, in the background, is the Iranian Army now tied up in the war with Iraq.

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