Islamists tried to cancel the 1979 Nowruz celebrations, in order to maintain their unending cycle of mourning and fighting. The Hezbollah was determined to take over the entire government apparatus, expel the liberal technocrats from the ministries, crush the Kurdistan uprising, and reinvigorate the populace around their banner. However, their mindless repressive tactics (Chomaghdari) had alienated most political activists; and their lack-lustre fundamentalist slogans could not attract the vibrant young population.
Since his arrival, ayatollah Khomeini had not helped their cause either, as his Qom lectures were normally tedious and erratic. Some Hezbollah ‘ideologues’ decided that a new wave of political radicalism was required to rescue the mantle of anti-imperialist struggle from the leftist groups; topple the insufferably liberal government of Bazargan; and establish their religious hegemony (Velayat Faghieh) within the new constitution. That fall, the ex-Shah’s trip to US for emergency medical surgery, gave them a unique opportunity to attack the American embassy in Tehran and create what Khomeini later exalted as ‘a second revolution greater than the first’.
The first revolution of 1978 had dropped Iran from the ranks of internationally respected countries, but considering the critical importance of our oil fields, both the Americans and the Russians soon tried to normalize their relationship with the haphazard government of Tehran. However, the hostage taking at the American embassy rapidly dropped Iran from the ranks of the civilized nations, down to the level of a rogue state. At a tremendous cost to the country, the Hezbollah’s goals were achieved, when the liberal government of Bazargan immediately resigned and Khomeini was salvaged from the isolation of Qom, to rule as the new absolute leader from the Jamaran bastion in North Tehran.
The leftist groups readily fell for the Hezbollah ruse and fully supported the hostage fiasco. However, their key support base was soon eroded, as six months later; the Islamists prevailed in the universities and closed them for three years of Cultural Revolution. Hezbollah’s victory would have been complete, if it were not for a technicality (country of birth) that disqualified their candidate for the first presidential election. To their utter disappointment, a western educated liberal (Banisadr) became the first Iranian president.
Banisadr was soon confronted by the Hezbollah, who successfully blocked his every move towards establishing a functioning cabinet, and even violently attacked his staff and followers. Hezbollah also hindered any development on the American hostage issues, in order to further weaken the new president and influence the new Majles elections. Only after rigging the elections and months of painful trade and financial blockades, Khomeini agreed that the new Majles (not the president) could negotiate and ratify a deal over the hostage crisis. However, two weeks into negotiations with the American side, suddenly another maniac threw a wrench into the wicked Middle East machination.
Saddam Hussein had always hated the arrogant Persians! Shah’s regime was a close ally of the deposed Iraqi monarch and a constant source of harassment to the new Baath party, which was almost toppled by a Savak engineered coup d’état in 1971. For years, Shah’s army had activity provided arms, logistical support and even artillery coverage to the Iraqi Kurds uprising, which controlled the northern quarter of that country. Finally in 1975 Saddam bowed to Shah’s demands regarding the border disputes and a truce was signed in Algeria. However, after the revolution, the religious zealots in Tehran started an active agitation campaign among the massive Shia population in Southern Iraq, in order to create another Islamic Republic in Baghdad. That of course did not sit well with the brutal leader of Iraq, who had ambitions of his own to ‘liberate’ the Arabic-speaking Khuzestan and teach another Qadessieh-type lesson to the Persians! Iraq’s surprise attack on the Western Iranian plains, in the autumn of 1980, stunned an unprepared nation and a disheartened army.
Ever since the revolution, the Iranian army had been hit by several waves of bloody purges. Nevertheless, the army was still not trusted by the governing Islamists, as they were well aware of the anti-mullah sentiments among the rank-and-file. On the other hand, the newly formed Revolutionary Guards were also unprepared to take on the well-equipped Iraqi army. Hence, two competing approaches emerged among the Iranian leadership, with president Banisadr advocating a systematic technical upgrade of the army, but the Hezbollah pushing for a massive poorly-armed militia (Basiej). A similar dispute raged through all aspects of government, where the liberal president supported the technocratic core (Motekhassesin) to lead the ministries and industries. But the Hezbollah was pushing for a widespread purging of all the ‘non-believers’ and substituting them with a massive infusion of the unqualified Islamists (Moteahhedin). At the core of that dispute was the utter disdain of the Shia clergy and the ‘true believers’ for anyone who was not conforming to their version of Islam.
The dominant Shia clergies believed that without their absolute oversight, the laypeople were incapable of even washing their hands in the proper Islamic manner, let alone running an office, a factory or an army! In their view, governance was a god-given privilege of the twelve Shia Imams, which was ‘temporarily’ trusted to their loyal deputies, the mullahs! This dogma became the cornerstone of absolute-authority in Islamist Iran, which originated as a religious tenet from Khomeini’s writings. Hence, despite widespread popular support, the first liberal president of Iran faced a losing battle against the militant Hezbollah, who stonewalled him in the Majles. When Banisadr called for peaceful rallies by the ‘silent majority’, the Islamist militia viciously attacked his supporters in the streets of Tehran and other major cities, killing hundreds.
The Banisadr vs. Hezbollah power struggle came to a bloody climax in the summer of 1981. Most political groups were forced to take sides with either the short-lived liberal-left alliance (Banisadr and Mujahidin) or the repressive Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic Party. The ensuing street battles, bombings and terror attacks devolved into a year-long bloody civil war. It took Khomeini by surprise and hatred, when several hundred of his Islamist cadres were assassinated by the leftists. However, Hezbollah finally emerged as the undisputed victor by 1982, when the prisons were filled with tens of thousands of opposition activists, leftists and liberals who were routinely tortured and murdered, with such brutality that made the late Shah’s Savak look innocent!
After winning that terror-filled struggle, Hezbollah turned its attention towards recapturing the Kurdistan province from the rebels and defeating the Iraqi army. For several months in 1980, the Iraqi invasion had united most Iranians of all creeds and beliefs, who selflessly volunteered to stop Saddam’s aggression. Even the Kurdistan fighting had subsided and the leftists were actively assisting the army. However, with the 1981/82 civil war, Iran’s Kurdistan soon became a bloody killing field, which destroyed tens of thousands of lives and ruined entire towns and villages!
A relevant reference: Khomeini: Life of the Ayatollah, by B. Moin.