Terror and Repression
Following the fall of Bani Sadr, opposition elements attempted to reorganize and to overthrow the government by force. The government responded with a policy of repression and terror. The government also took steps to impose its version of an Islamic legal system and an Islamic code of social and moral behavior.
Bani Sadr remained in hiding for several weeks. Believing he was illegally impeached, he maintained his claim to the presidency, formed an alliance with Mojahedin leader Masoud Rajavi, and in July 1981 escaped with Rajavi from Iran to France. In Paris, Bani Sadr and Rajavi announced the establishment of the National Council of Resistance (NCR) and committed themselves to work for the overthrow of the Ayatollah Khomeini regime. They announced a program that emphasized a form of democracy based on elected popular councils; protection for the rights of the ethnic minorities; special attention to the interests of shopkeepers, small landowners, and civil servants; limited land reform; and protection for private property in keeping with the national interest. The Kurdish Democratic Party, the National Democratic Front, and a number of other small groups and individuals subsequently announced their adherence to the NCR.
Meanwhile, violent opposition to the regime in Iran continued. On June 28, 1981, a powerful bomb exploded at the headquarters of the IRP while a meeting of party leaders was in progress. Seventy-three persons were killed, including the chief justice and party secretary general Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, four cabinet ministers, twenty-seven Majlis deputies, and several other government officials. Elections for a new president were held on July 24, and Rajai, the prime minister, was elected to the post. On August 5, 1981, the Majlis approved Rajai's choice of Hojatoleslam Mohammad Javad Bahonar as prime minister.
Rajai and Bahonar, along with the chief of the Tehran police, lost their lives when a bomb went off during a meeting at the office of the prime minister on August 30. The Majlis named another cleric, Mahdavi-Kani, as interim prime minister. In a new round of elections on October 2, Hojatoleslam Ali Khamenei was elected president. Division within the leadership became apparent, however, when the Majlis rejected Khamenei's nominee, Ali Akbar Velayati, as prime minister. On October 28, the Majlis elected Mir-Hossein Mousavi, a protégé of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, as prime minister.
Although no group claimed responsibility for the bombings that had killed Iran's political leadership, the government blamed the Mojahedin for both. The Mojahedin did, however, claim responsibility for a spate of other assassinations that followed the overthrow of Bani Sadr. Among those killed in the space of a few months were the Friday prayer leaders in Tabriz, Kerman, Shiraz, Yazd, and Bakhtaran; a provincial governor; the warden of Evin Prison, the chief ideologue of the IRP; and several revolutionary court judges, Majlis deputies, minor government officials, and members of revolutionary organizations.
In September 1981, expecting to spark a general uprising, the Mojahedin sent their young followers into the streets to demonstrate against the government and to confront the authorities with their own armed contingents. On September 27, the Mojahedin used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers against units of the Pasdaran. Smaller left-wing opposition groups, including the Fadayan, attempted similar guerrilla activities. In July 1981, members of the Union of Communists tried to seize control of the Caspian town of Amol. At least seventy guerrillas and Pasdaran members were killed before the uprising was put down. The government responded to the armed challenge of the guerrilla groups by expanded use of the Pasdaran in counterintelligence activities and by widespread arrests, jailings, and executions.
The executions were facilitated by a September 1981, Supreme Judicial Council circular to the revolutionary courts permitting death sentences for "active members" of guerrilla groups. Fifty executions a day became routine; there were days when more than 100 persons were executed. Amnesty International documented 2,946 executions in the 12 months following Bani Sadr's impeachment, a conservative figure because the authorities did not report all executions. The pace of executions slackened considerably at the end of 1982, partly as a result of a deliberate government decision but primarily because, by then, the back of the armed resistance movement had largely been broken. The radical opposition had, however, eliminated several key clerical leaders, exposed vulnerabilities in the state's security apparatus, and posed the threat, never realized, of sparking a wider opposition movement.
By moving quickly to hold new elections and to fill vacant posts, the government managed to maintain continuity in authority, however, and by repression and terror it was able to crush the guerrilla movements. By the end of 1983, key leaders of the Fadayan, Paykar (a Marxist-oriented splinter group of the Mojahedin), the Union of Communists, and the Mojahedin in Iran had been killed, thousands of the rank and file had been executed or were in prison, and the organizational structure of these movements was gravely weakened. Only the Mojahedin managed to survive, and even it had to transfer its main base of operations to Kordestan, and later to Kurdistan of Iraq, and its headquarters to Paris (see Antiregime Opposition Groups).
During this period, the government was also able to consolidate its position in Kordestan. Fighting had resumed between government forces and Kurdish rebels after the failure of talks under Bani Sadr in late 1980. The Kurds held parts of the countryside and were able to enter the major cities at will after dark. With its takeover of Bukan in November 1981, however, the government reasserted control over the major urban centers. Further campaigns in 1983 reduced rebel control over the countryside, and the Kurdish Democratic Party had to move its headquarters to Iraq, from which it made forays into Iran. The Kurdish movement was further weakened when differences between the Kurdish Democratic Party and the more radical Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan), a Kurdish Marxist guerrilla organization, resulted in open fighting in 1985. The government also moved against other active and potential opponents.
In April 1982, the authorities arrested former Ayatollah Khomeini aide and foreign minister Qotbzadeh and charged him with plotting with military officers and clerics to kill Ayatollah Khomeini and to overthrow the state. Approximately 170 others, including 70 military men, were also arrested. The government implicated the respected religious leader Ayatollah Shariatmadari, whose son-in-law had allegedly served as the intermediary between Qotbzadeh and Ayatollah Shariatmadari. At his trial, Qotbzadeh denied any design on Ayatollah Khomeini's life and claimed he had wanted only to change the government, not to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Shariatmadari, in a television interview, said he had been told of the plot but did not actively support it. Qotbzadeh and the military men were executed, and Ayatollah Shariatmadari's son-in-law was jailed. In an unprecedented move, members of the Association of the Seminary Teachers of Qom voted to strip Ayatollah Shariatmadari of his title of marja-e taqlid (a jurist who is also an object of emulation). Shariatmadari's Center for Islamic Study and Publications was closed, and Ayatollah Shariatmadari was placed under virtual house arrest.
In June 1982, the authorities captured Qashqai leader Khosrow Qashqai, who had returned to Iran after the Revolution and had led his tribesmen in a local uprising. He was tried and publicly hanged in October.
All these moves to crush opposition to the Republic gave freer rein to the Pasdaran and revolutionary committees. Members of these organizations entered homes, made arrests, conducted searches, and confiscated goods at will. The government organized "Mobile Units of God's Vengeance" to patrol the streets and to impose Islamic dress and Islamic codes of behavior. Instructions issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in December 1981 and in August 1982 admonishing the revolutionary organizations to exercise proper care in entering homes and making arrests were ignored. "Manpower renewal" and "placement" committees in government ministries and offices resumed wide scale purges in 1982, examining officeholders and job applicants on their beliefs and political inclinations. Applicants to universities and military academies were subjected to similar examinations.
By the end of 1982, the country experienced a reaction against the numerous executions and a widespread feeling of insecurity because of the arbitrary actions of the revolutionary organizations and the purge committees. The government saw that insecurity was also undermining economic confidence and exacerbating economic difficulties.
Accordingly, in December 1982 Ayatollah Khomeini issued an eight-point decree prohibiting the revolutionary organizations from entering homes, making arrests, conducting searches, and confiscating property without legal authorization. He also banned unauthorized tapping of telephones, interference with citizens in the privacy of their homes, and unauthorized dismissals from the civil service. He urged the courts to conduct themselves so that the people felt their life, property, and honor were secure. The government appointed a follow-up committee to ensure adherence to Ayatollah Khomeini's decree, to look into the activities of the revolutionary organizations, and to hear public complaints against government officials. Some 300,000 complaints were filed within a few weeks. The follow-up committee was soon dissolved, but the decree nevertheless led to a marked decrease in executions, tempered the worst abuses of the Pasdaran and revolutionary committees, and brought a measure of security to individuals not engaged in opposition activity.
The December decree, however, implied no increased tolerance for the political opposition. The Tudeh Party had secured itself a measure of freedom during the first three years of the Revolution by declaring loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and supporting the clerics against liberal and left-wing opposition groups. But the government showed less tolerance for the party after the impeachment of Bani Sadr and the repression of left-wing guerrilla organizations. The party's position further deteriorated in 1982, as relations between Iran and the Soviet Union grew more strained over such issues as the war with Iraq and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. The government began closing down Tudeh publications as early as June 1981, and in 1982 officials and senior clerics publicly branded the members of the Tudeh as agents of a foreign power.
In February 1983, the government arrested Tudeh leader Noureddin Kianouri, other members of the party Central Committee, and more than 1,000 party members. The party was proscribed, and Kianouri confessed on television to spying for the Soviet Union and to "espionage, deceit, and treason." Possibly because of Soviet intervention, none of the leading members of the party was brought to trial or executed, although the leaders remained in prison. Many rank and file members, however, were put to death. By 1983 Bazargan's IFM was the only political group outside the factions of the ruling hierarchy that was permitted any freedom of activity. Even this group was barely tolerated. For example, the party headquarters was attacked in 1983, and two party members were assaulted on the floor of the Majlis.
In 1984 Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the Hojatiyyeh, a fundamentalist religious group that rejected the role assigned to the faqih under the Constitution. The organization, taking this attack as a warning, dissolved itself.
The Consolidation of Theocracy
By the time Ayatollah Khomeini issued his judicial decree, the armed opposition had been suppressed. Although isolated acts of terrorism continued to take place after December 1982, the political elite no longer perceived such incidents as threatening to the regime. Both religious and lay leaders remained generally intolerant of dissent, but a gradual decline was noted in government abuses of civil liberties in line with the provisions of the eight-point decree.
As preoccupation with internal security abated, the leaders began to establish consensus on the procedures that they believed were necessary to ensure the continuity of the new political institutions. Accordingly, elections were held for the Assembly of Experts, which chose a successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, and regulations were promulgated for the smooth functioning of the ministerial bureaucracies. The politicians also were determined to restore relative normalcy to society, albeit within prescribed Islamic bounds. Thus, they permitted the universities, which had been closed in 1980, to reopen, and they tried to control the excesses of the hezbollahis.
The refocusing of political energies on consolidating the regime also brought into the open the debate among members of the political elite over government policies. Two main issues dominated this debate: the role of the revolutionary organizations that operated fairly autonomously of the central government; and government intervention in the economy.
The government of Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, which was approved by the Majlis in October 1981 and won a second parliamentary mandate in October 1985, tried to restrain the revolutionary organizations and advocated broad regulatory economic control. The Majlis served as the principal arena in which these issues were debated. Opposition from the Majlis blocked some laws outright and forced the government to accept compromises that diluted the effects of other policies.
Antiregime Opposition Groups
The Ayatollah Khomeini regime has faced severe challenges from several opposition groups, including royalists, National Front bureaucrats, intellectuals and professionals, communists, guerrilla organizations, Kurdish rebels, and distinguished mojtahids (Shia clerics whose demonstrated erudition in religious law has earned them the privilege to interpret law).
Of these, the royalists and the National Front leaders have operated mainly from foreign bases or underground cells. The communists were purged in 1983 when the Tudeh's leadership was almost entirely eliminated. The main guerrilla group, the Mojahedin, claimed to have made strides in organizing a war of attrition against the regime. But because it has operated since July 1986 primarily from Baghdad, thus giving the impression of collaboration with Iraq, the Mojahedin's effectiveness and credibility may have been lessened by the war.
The Kurds have been fighting the regime since their 1979 rebellion, even though Tehran has kept them off balance by using Pasdaran forces. Finally, National Front politicians have openly displayed their differing views, mostly in West European capitals, although the group led by former Prime Minister Bazargan was the only domestic "opposition" party tolerated by the regime.