Why Ayatollah Khomeini is biting his nails over a land reform bill

The writer lived for 12 years in Iran but recently had to leave the country. He now uses Athens as a listening post for writing about Iranian affairs.

Iran's present leaders, already split by vicious infighting, may be heading for a crucial battle over a land reform bill before the Majlis (parliament).

The bill is being opposed by right-wing mullahs who became landowners after the revolution, or were already land-owning gentry before the Shah was toppled. The mullahs are reportedly blocking efforts to have the bill discussed in the Majlis.

This, in turn, has angered the group calling themselves the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution, who have been demanding that the mullahs should stop interfering in the country's administration, or at least play a minimal role in it.

The lineup on either side is formidable enough to make even Ayatollah Khomeini nervous about what could happen if the two groups become locked in battle. As of now the Ayatollah is said to be keeping a neutral stance.

Not to be confused with the Islamic-leftist Mujahideen-e Khalq guerrilla organization, who have been waging an armed struggle against Ayatollah Khomeini since June, the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution have gained control of the important economic portfolios in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi. They now are facing the challenge of putting the devastated economy into some kind of recognizable order.

The Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution are determined that the land reform bill should form a cornerstone of their economic recovery program. Stalwarts like Executive Affairs Minister Behzad Nabavi and Labor Minister Ahmad Tavakoli are said to be spearheading moves to defy the right-wing mullahs.

Sources with inside information about what is going on among Iran's present rulers recall that it was really the issue of land reform that led to the downfall of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Mr. Bazargan apparently did not realize whose toes he was treading on when he began breezing through plans to implement a land reform program in 1979.

Mr. Bazargan and his team of ''liberal'' intellectuals had been working on the program almost from the time his provisional government came to power in February 1979. By Nov. 5 of that year, when the American Embassy crisis erupted, he was at the point of launching it.

The mullahs who set about undermining him included those who had acquired land during the Shah's regime through the religious endowment laws. Meanwhile, others were discovering the benefits of land ownership through the ''revolutionary'' confiscations that were taking place with the help of Revolutionary Guards.

The guards may not have realized that by seizing the land from one set of landowners and handing it to the mullahs they were simply building up a new set of landowners. For them the land seizures were meant to be a service to Islam, and in any case the land was supposed to have been held by the mullah for redistribution among the peasants. But once having acquired it, the mullahs appear to have had second thoughts.

What makes the situation potentially explosive is that the Revolutionary Guards are now split, one group backing the mullahs and another group controlled by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.