By: Safa Haeri

TEHRAN-PARIS 10th APR. (IPS) General Ali Sayyad Shirazi, 55, deputy chief of staff of the regular army of the Islamic Republic and a military adviser to the leader of the regime was shot dead early Saturday morning in Tehran by unidentified gunmen dressed as street cleaners.

The Baghdad-based, Iraqi supported, equipped and trained Mojahedeen Khalq Organisation (MKO) claimed responsibility for the killing, but like the officials in Tehran, they did not offered any detail about the operations.

Though the MKO claimed its commando shut dead General Sayyad Shirazi while he was surrounded by bodyguards, but informed sources confirmed that he had no guards at all at the time of the shoot out. "That, said an Iranian terrorist experts, could have made him an easy target".

The evening daily "Keyhan", a mouthpiece of the Information (Intelligence) Ministry said the General was shot dead with three bullets fired at point blank as he was seated behind the wheel of his car, taking his son to the school.

A statement by the Army read over Tehran Radio said General Sayyad Shirazi, was shot by "terrorists elements" as he was going to work. The Iranian officials to denounce the Mujahedeen Khalq use the term "terrorist".

A hero of the eight-year war with Iraq, where he was the co-ordinator of operations between the regular armed forces and the revolutionary guards, he personally had mounted several successful attacks against the Iraqi invaders, Sayyad Shirazi had also played an important role in crushing of the uprising of the Iranian Kurds in early months after the victory of the Islamic revolution. He had been promoted only last week by the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic regime of Iran who is also the Commander of all Iranian Armed Forces to the grade of general.

He died in hospital from his wounds shortly after the attack, Tehran television reported.

In a communiqué send from Paris to major international news agencies, the MKO described General Sayyad Shirazi as a "butcher of the Mujahedeens, of the (Iranian) Kurdish people and a war criminal who has received what he merited."

In a statement read by himself over Tehran Radio, the ayatollah Khatami promised that this "criminal act will not go unpunished" and assured that the efforts of the terrorists to "push the Iranian society towards violence and stop the rule of law and reforms are condemned to defeat".

This latest terrorist operation takes place at a time that the conservative forces have started a new campaign of intimidation against intellectuals, liberal politicians and reformists.

In his last Friday sermon, the ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the hawkish Head of the Islamic Judiciary who is a close friend of the leader of the regime once again reiterated his menaces against journalists and intellectuals, accusing them of being "mercenaries of the enemies of Islam and the Islamic revolution, obeying their orders to sabotage the regime".

Analysts expressed their "fear" to see the conservatives using this last assassination to eliminate their rivals and curb reforms promised by the president Mohammad Khatami.

An Iranian political analyst in Paris went as far as to express doubt that the so-called street cleaners who shot General Sayyad Shirazi were really MKO's members.

"Conservatives who, after the triumph of Mr. Khatami in the last presidential elections continue to add defeat after defeat have braced themselves for a bold assault. Since the beginning of the (Iranian) new year, ayatollah Khameneh'i, the leader of the conservatives, then the ayatollah Yazdi, his right hand man and several hard line spokesmen and newspapers have all warned that they will cut hands and tongues of the enemies of Islam and the regime. They went as far as attacking namely the president, something unprecedented in Iran, accusing him of being the origin of all the problems the regime faces. The assassination of General Sayyad Shirazi can well be a very good pretext for them to go ahead with their plan", the analyst told IPS.

The same, the assassination of General Sayyad Shirazi, may serve the cause of the hard liners opposed to any rapprochement with the West, mostly with the United States, were the National Resistance Council, the political arm of the MKO has concentrated its political activities.

Even though that the US has listed the MKO as a terrorist organisation and shut down its offices, yet, routinely, the ruling conservatives, chief among them Mr. Khameneh'i, accuses the West of harbouring the Mujahedeens, providing them political and logistical support. The shutting down of the activities of the MKO in France, where the organisation operates from a Paris suburb its largest propaganda office world-wide, was one of the conditions the Islamic Republic had placed for the now postponed visit of president Khatami to Paris.

As a matter of fact, the MKO maintain offices in many European and American capitals and major cities from where they mount activities against the ruling Iranian regime, like the recent demonstrations they organised in Rome during the State visit of President Khatami.

After the assassination, last August, of Asadollah Lajevardi, a former Head of the Islamic Organisation of Prisons, known to the thousands of Iranian political prisoners as "The Butcher of Evin", was followed by a wave of arrests of pro-Khatami personalities, closure and muzzling of liberal newspapers, a wave that ended with the murder, by the regime agents, of several prominent intellectuals and politicians that included Dariush Foruhar and his wife Parvaneh, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Ja'far Pouyandeh and Majid Davani among others.

In fact, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, general Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the same one who a year ago had menaced journalists and intellectuals of cutting their hands, tongues and feet, thus setting a storm in the liberal press, now has vowed to avenge general Sayyad Shirazi by using the same methods.

"Based on information received, the terrorist group (Mujahideen) have claimed responsibility for the attack. The Revolutionary Guards and the army will take severe revenge," said General Rahim-Safavi.

Mr. Iraj Jamshidi, a leading independent journalist and analyst in Tehran noted that the assassination of General Sayyad Shirazi is very unpopular, as it runs counter to the policy of reforms and political overtures undertaken Mr. Khatami and popular forces that are against violence and trouble-makers of any walk.

"I hope that this move (assassination) will not serve as a pretext by those who are against political development and democracy, that they do not use this foolish act to increase their attacks against reformists", he said in an interview with the Persian Services of Radio France Internationale (RFI). ENDS SAYYAD SHIRAZI 1049900