THE BAKHTIAR GOVERNMENT
Once installed as prime minister, Bakhtiar took several measures
designed to appeal to elements in the opposition movement. He
lifted restrictions on the press; the newspapers, on strike since
November, resumed publication. He set free remaining political
prisoners and promised the dissolution of SAVAK, the lifting of
martial law, and free elections. He announced Iran's withdrawal
from CENTO, canceled US$7 billion worth of arms orders from the
United States, and announced Iran would no longer sell oil to
South Africa or Israel. Although Bakhtiar won the qualified support
of moderate clerics like Shariatmadari, his measures did not win
him the support of Khomeini and the main opposition elements,
who were now committed to the overthrow of the monarchy and the
establishment of a new political order. The National Front, with
which Bakhtiar had been associated for nearly thirty years, expelled
him from the movement. Khomeini declared Bakhtiar's government
illegal. Bazargan, in Khomeini's name, persuaded the oil workers
to pump enough oil to ease domestic hardship, however, and some
normalcy returned to the bazaar in the wake of Bakhtiar's appointment.
But strikes in both the public and the private sector and large-scale
demonstrations against the government continued. When, on January
29, 1979, Khomeini called for a street "referendum" on the monarchy
and the Bakhtiar government, there was a massive turnout.
Bakhtiar sought unsuccessfully to persuade Khomeini to postpone
his return to Iran until conditions in the country were normalized.
Khomeini refused to receive a member of the regency council Bakhtiar
sent as an emissary to Paris and after some hesitation rejected
Bakhtiar's offer to come to Paris personally for consultations.
Bakhtiar's attempt to prevent Khomeini's imminent return by closing
the Mehrabad Airport at Tehran on January 26, 1979, proved to
be only a stopgap measure.
Khomeini arrived in Tehran from Paris on February 1, 1979, received
a rapturous welcome from millions of Iranians, and announced he
would "smash in the mouth of the Bakhtiar government." He labeled
the government illegal and called for the strikes and demonstrations
to continue. A girls' secondary school at which Khomeini established
his headquarters in Tehran became the center of opposition activity.
A multitude of decisions, and the coordination of the opposition
movement, were handled here by what came to be known as the komiteh-ye
Imam, or the Imam's committee. On February 5, Khomeini named
Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister of a provisional government.
Although Bazargan did not immediately announce a cabinet, the
move reinforced the conditions of dual authority that increasingly
came to characterize the closing days of the Pahlavi monarchy.
In many large urban centers local komitehs (revolutionary
committees) had assumed responsibility for municipal functions,
including neighborhood security and the distribution of such basic
necessities as fuel oil. Government ministries and such services
as the customs and the posts remained largely paralyzed. Bakhtiar's
cabinet ministers proved unable to assert their authority or,
in many instances, even to enter their offices. The loyalty of
the armed forces was being seriously eroded by months of confrontation
with the people on the streets. There were instances of troops
who refused to fire on the crowds, and desertions were rising.
In late January, air force technicians at the Khatami Air Base
in Esfahan became involved in a confrontation with their officers.
In his statements, Khomeini had attempted to win the army rank
and file over to the side of the opposition. Following Khomeini's
arrival in Tehran, clandestine contacts took place between Khomeini's
representatives and a number of military commanders. These contacts
were encouraged by United States ambassador William Sullivan,
who had no confidence in the Bakhtiar government, thought the
triumph of the Khomeini forces inevitable, and believed future
stability in Iran could be assured only if an accommodation could
be reached between the armed forces and the Khomeini camp. Contacts
between the military chiefs and the Khomeini camp were also being
encouraged by United States general Robert E. Huyser, who had
arrived in Tehran on January 4, 1979, as President Carter's special
emissary. Huyser's assignment was to keep the Iranian army intact,
to encourage the military to maintain support for the Bakhtiar
government, and to prepare the army for a takeover, should that
become necessary. Huyser began a round of almost daily meetings
with the service chiefs of the army, navy, and air force, plus
heads of the National Police and the Gendarmerie who were sometimes
joined by the chief of SAVAK. He dissuaded those so inclined from
attempting a coup immediately upon Khomeini's return to Iran,
but he failed to get the commanders to take any other concerted
action. He left Iran on February 3, before the final confrontation
between the army and the revolutionary forces.
On February 8, uniformed airmen appeared at Khomeini's home and
publicly pledged their allegiance to him. On February 9, air force
technicians at the Doshan Tappeh Air Base outside Tehran mutinied.
Units of the Imperial Guard failed to put down the insurrection.
The next day, the arsenal was opened, and weapons were distributed
to crowds outside the air base. The government announced a curfew
beginning in the afternoon, but the curfew was universally ignored.
Over the next twenty-four hours, revolutionaries seized police
barracks, prisons, and buildings. On February 11, twenty-two senior
military commanders met and announced that the armed forces would
observe neutrality in the confrontation between the government
and the people. The army's withdrawal from the streets was tantamount
to a withdrawal of support for the Bakhtiar government and acted
as a trigger for a general uprising. By late afternoon on February
12, Bakhtiar was in hiding, and key points throughout the capital
were in rebel hands. The Pahlavi monarchy had collapsed.
Data as of December 1987