Iran's spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, apparently reacting to reports that he recently suffered a heart attack and may be dying, said Sunday that "everyone faces death" and vowed that his Islamic fundamentalist regime can survive without him.
In a brief address to Revolutionary Guards at his home in Jamaran, a suburb north of Tehran, the 86-year-old leader did not deny the reports circulating outside Iran that he has suffered a heart attack and is in failing health.
"Our enemies must understand that the Islamic Republic . . . has been stabilized and is not dependent on any person, but on the people and the armed forces," Khomeini said.
Tehran radio broadcast the address several times, and the state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency released a translation of its full text to its clients.
Widespread reports said Khomeini, who had a heart attack in 1980, recently suffered one or two more attacks. Rumors that he is in declining health are common, but this time people in power seem to be taking the reports seriously.
They come at a time when academic, diplomatic and business sources say a struggle for survival is under way in Iran's leadership, nearly eight years after uprisings inspired by Khomeini ended the reign of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Recently, a power struggle among Iran's top clerics for the leadership of the Islamic fundamentalist government after Khomeini's death has intensified.
Last month, scores of associates of Khomeini's designated successor, the Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, were arrested in the shrine city of Qom, about 75 miles south of Tehran.
Khomeini said in his address that after a bomb explosion killed about 75 people in the offices of the ruling Islamic Republican Party in June, 1981, Iran's enemies rejoiced in the belief that his Islamic republic would collapse.
The explosion killed the Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, then Iran's second-most powerful man, and scores of Parliament deputies. But the people "poured into the streets" to support the government, which survived, Khomeini said.
The Iranian ruler said that even after he dies, Iran's armed forces will continue the war against Iraq, which he called a "war against blasphemy" and a "religious duty" of the armed forces.