Ayatollah Rubollah Khomeini, ushering in the third revolutionary new year holiday in his country beset by war, confusion and unresolved leadership disputes, today criticized the bickering protagonists in the continuing power struggle.
In a message read by his son, Ahmad, the 80-year-old religious leader warned that President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr and "even" himself were equal before the law.
The ayatollah also said that Iran's political bickering was preventing the country from winning its war with Iraq and from its real struggle against the "world-devouring superpowers."
Khomeini balanced this implied backing for the secular president's clerical enemies in their efforts to bring him to trial with a call to reopen the universities closed last spring by Islamic fundamentalists.
His comments were delivered on Iran's pre-Islamic Now Ruz holiday, which traditionally shuts down the country for two weeks and this year promises a respite in the running power struggle.
Despite Khomeini's implied support for clerical demands for continuing investigations fo recent disturbances at a meeting presided by Bani-Sadr, sources reached in Tehran are convinced that the fundamentalists have not yet eradicated their foes.
They optimistically predict that the secular camp led by Bani-Sadr and the man he helped eliminate in November 1979 -- formerly prime minister Mehdi Bazargan -- has weathered the onslaught launched by the Islamic Republican Party, which for the first time has succeeded in installing a full-scale clerical government.
Despite the clerical demands to put Bani-Sadr on trial, in fact the secular grouping has managed to score potentially important points likely to prevent their total elimination from Iranian politics.
Symptomatic of the lay revival, the insiders said, was Bazargan's spirited defense in the long-delayed trial of Amir Abbas Entezam, his former deputy and government spokesman arrested Dec. 19, 1979, at the height of the hysteria generated by the seizure of the U.S. Embassy hostages.
Bazargan argued that he as leader of the first postrevolutionary government had ordered Entezam to contact both foreign press and diplomats and, in fact, justified such action in terms of joint Cabinet responsibility.
Bazargan thus helped undercut the vague prosecution charges that Entezam was guilty of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency simply because of his undisputed contacts with the U.S. Embassy.
Whereas Entezam's arrest was brought about by suspicions generated by the leaking of seized U.S. Embassy messages recounting these meetings, in the present, less supercharged atmosphere Bazargan was able to explain how basically useful such exchanges were for the government.
With the state's counterintelligence apparatus in a shambles after the shah's overthrow, Barazgan recounted counted how he decided to ask each superpower to; keep him informed of the other's activities.
The Soviets produced nothing, he said, but the Americans provided detailed information about Iraqi troop movements near Iran's borders and about the turbulent situation inside Afghanistan preceding the Soviet invasion there.
The very fact that a once-discredited politician could enter such a rational defense and even suggest that the United States was anything but "the Great Satan" prompted suggestions that Entezam might be acquitted when the trial resumes after Now Ruz.
Nonetheless, the clerical party is riding the crest of its now undisputed control of the government.
The fundamentalist-controlled Majilis, or parliament, finally voted to allow Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Rajai to fill three ministerial posts left empty since his government's formation last fall because the president claimed he was constitutionally empowered to reject unsuitable candidates.
Illustrative of the other fundamentalists' efforts to undermine Bani-Sadr's remaining prestige was the prosecutor general's warning Thursday that the president should be brought to trial since no one, not even Khomeini, was above the law.
Ayatollah Moussavi Ardabili, however, stopped short of announcing legal steps against Bani-Sadr, whom hard-line clerics accused of taking the law into his own hands when he ordered his partisans to deal with fundamentalists stalwarts at a March 5 meeting at Tehran University.
Following the violence at the meeting in which at least 45 persons were injured, Khomeini intervened. He banned all public speeches -- a blow against Bani-Sadr -- until the war with Iraq ended.
Khomeini balanced the ban by giving the president equal status on a three-man commission to arbitrate the power struggle alongside his own representative and one named by the fundamentalists.
These varied moves and countermoves, however, are not expected to resolve the power struggle. If anything, observers say the Islamic revolution has once again proved its apparently inexhaustible capacity to absorb shocks, both domestic and foreign, without buckling.
The ban on public speaking is not expected to last any more than similar ones have in the past. Nor do the secular politicians show the underlying strength required to reverse that seeming iron law of revolutions; that once out of the center of power it is impossible to get back in.
In a meeting with the rivals Monday, Khomeini reinforced Bani-Sadr's role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but refused to endorse any increase in his civilian presidential powers.
The religious leader's decision apparently reflects fears that Bani-Sadr has tightened his grip on the armed forces, which when Iraq started the war in September was limited largely to the officer corps still suspected of antirevolutionary sentiments.
Bani-Sadr is credited with having weaned the enlisted men away from their fundamentalist religious commissars, thus tilting the balance in his favor and leaving only the clerically influenced Revolutionary Guards as a potential center of military opposition.
Even within the religious community dissenters are once again beginning to raise their voices. Although middle-of-the-road leaders such as Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari remain silenced under effective house arrest in Qom, other respected religious figures are speaking out.
Ayatollah Abolfazl Zanjani, a rejected cleric with impeccable nationalist credentials since the days of the late prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh, recently has denounced the clergy for mishandling its political role.
He has warned that Islam itself may be discredited by the clergy's political errors. He even questioned the controversial constitutional clause enshrining a jurist-theologian with far-reaching powers, a provision hand-tailored for Khomeini.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported from Beirut:
Iran claimed today that it recaptured sizable areas of its western highlands on the second day of a counteroffensive mounted against invading Iraqi forces in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.
But Iraq said it blunted the attack in its early hours and put the enemy to "chaotic flight with our forces hot on their trail."
The military communiques announced conflicting battle accounts as good-will missions from nonaligned and Islamic nations said they would undertake separate shuttles next month to try to bring the two nations to the negotiating table.