Westerners sometimes applaud when their airliners land, but here the touchdown of a camouflaged Iranian Air Force transport plane in the war zone provoked a bellowed outcry:

"Allahu akhbar God is great , Imam Khomeini is great, death to America, death to the Russians, death to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ."

Leading the passengers in this thanksgiving was Hojateslam Gholam Reza Safii, a prominent mullah in the office of military ideology and education.

Bespectacled, bearded as befits a Shiite cleric, and wearing the flowing gowns that are the mullah's trademark, the youngish cleric talked for most of the flight with Behzad Nabavi, the man who negotiated the release of the U.S. hostages last year.

Safii and several fellow clerics, on an inspection trip in the capacity of religious commissars for the Army, were flown by hedge-hopping helicopters to the battle sites of Iran's recent victory for a briefing with the divisional commander.

The commander, Col. Azim Azgomi of the 72nd, or Khorassan, Division, began their briefing by announcing, "In the name of Allah the compassionate and merciful, I welcome you."

Half pleased, half seemingly contemptuous of the Western journalists who were also along, a mullah wondered aloud if the reporters "minded not being served champagne" as was the Army's wont during the rule of the late shah. He also pointed out that in the new Army, officers and men ate together in true revolutionary style, at tables standing up.

Despite such revolutionary attributes, the regular Army, as opposed to the Revolutionary Guards who are the secular arm of the ruling clerics, appears still deeply marked by its long relationship with the U.S. military going back to soon after World War II.

American-built F5s in camouflage paint take off and land at Dezful's Vadahtia Air Base, which in English still proclaims itself to be "the home of the fighters."

Those aircraft--and the American troop-carrying helicopters and gunships--have turned in a remarkable performance in the recent fighting. Most of the pilots trained at bases in the United States.

Although much stress is officially put on the inspiration of Islam and the personal guidance of religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, American arms also have been an important part of why the Iranians came out winners in the recent fighting.

The gunships are faster and more maneuverable than the equivalent Soviet-built Hinds in the Iraqi inventory. And Iranian Army aviators, who fly the helicopters, credit their ships with knocking out both Iraqi tanks and helicopters.

For professionals in the Iranian armed forces, long suspect in the clerics' eyes for their support of their late shah, the war with Iraq has provided a chance to win back official recognition.

Little more than three years ago, Army units ran amok and killed hundreds of civilians in a display of violence marking their fury at the shah's forced departure into exile. When the revolution came to power in February 1979, dozens of top generals were executed, and all other general officers were retired.

Thus it was not without significance when Col. Ali Jamali, the deputy ground forces commander, after expressing his thanks to Khomeini's leadership and the inspiration of Islam, added, "We feel part of the nation, not separated from the nation. We love the nation and the whole nation loves us."

Even Americans seem more easily tolerated these days. Iranian Army personnel from privates and noncommissioned officers up to senior commanders were uniformly polite, sometimes even cordial, to American journalists visiting the war zone. After the strains caused by American support of the shah and the 444-day detention of the Americans at the U.S. Embassy here, it seemed like the recent victories had put many official Iranians in a buoyant mood.

At Ahwaz Airport, a Revolutionary Guard was upset enough upon learning that a group of journalists included Americans to suggest he put bullets through their heads. But at the end of the journalists' two-day visit, an Iranian officer laughingly told an American reporter who expressed interest in prolonging his stay, "perhaps we can arrange for 445 days."