A major dispute between government and clergy erupted today around oil industry chief Hassan Nazih, raising the possibility that he will resign or be dismissed and reviving fears of worker agitation that could disrupt the flow of Iran's oil exports.
There was also speculation in the capital that the dispute could become another resignation issue for Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, who had supported Nazih in weekend statements that appeared to be aimed at Nazih's critics among the clergy.
The dispute was sparked when the Iranian state radio broadcast a statement by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's son-in-law, Hojatoleslam Sahab Eshraghi, in which he said Nazih no longer enjoyed the confidence of the ayatollah, who is Iran's de facto head of state.
Aides to Khomeini in the holy city of Qom confirmed the statement by Eshraghi, who Khomeini recently appointed as a special representative in the oil industry.
Nazih, who described the dispute as "disgusting," told reporters today that he would not work until the issue had been resolved and reported that staff in the National Iranian Oil Co.'s Tehran headquarters had started a strike in sympathy. The strike is expected to continue Tuesday.
Nazih called on workers in the oil fields and refineries not to strike and oil production and exports so far have not been affected.
But in a statement that reflected fears of trouble among oil field staff, with whom Nazih is said to have established a close personal rapport, he said that the resignation or dismissal of an individual should not cause consternation or an interruption of work.
Nazih was quoted by the official Pars News Agency as saying he would appeal to Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, Iran's number two religious leader, and to Prime Minister Azargan to investigate the issue.
Specific reasons for the row over Nazih were not immediately apparent, but there have been growing rumors that a move to replace him would be made by members of the clergy who resented his liberal stance on domestic political issues.
Khomeini's apparent approval of his son-in-law's comment is, however, a major embarrassment for Bazargan.
In a weekend speech to workers in the key oil industry center of Abadan, the prime minister reported that in a recent meeting with Khomeini, the revolutionary leader had expressed full confidence in both Nazih and the prime minister.
Bazargan said that Khomeini had been angered by exaggerated reports against Nazih by "backbiters," an apparent reference to his clerical critics.
News services reported these developments from Iran:
A firing squad executed three former senators who served under the deposed shah on charges of abetting the monarch's alleged crimes, the state radio said. Sens. Iraj Matbui, Jamshid Alam and Mohsen Khwajanuri were found guilty by a revolutionary tribunal of "warring against God and being corrupt on earth" -- charges on which nearly 600 people have been executed since the overthrow of the shah.
Ayatollah Khomeini said in a broadcast speech that the Islamic revoltuion was being misrepresented abroad in a way that could lead to its defeat. He said Iran's enemies are "trying to blame everything on Islam."