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The reports of Ayatollah Khomeini's impending death can't be wrong forever. One of these days, inevitably, the latest rumor that the Iranian ruler is about to expire will be followed by news that he has actually died.

But so far it hasn't happened. One series of rumors that Khomeini was on his deathbed was followed by a journalist's report that he had seen the spry ayatollah bound into a room full of people, deliver an animated talk, and hurry out again.Regardless of when Khomeini leaves the scene, it would be a mistake to assume that it will necessarily mean a big improvement in the Iranian regime. He is hardly the only brutal fanatic in Iran; he has surrounded himself with others. It isn't Khomeini himself who conducts the torture sessions and carries out the executions. The "moderates" that could once be found in Tehran are now in exile.

Nor does Iran fit the comfortable stereotype of a dictatorship universally hated by the people. Some Iranians are resisting the government with bravery and determination, but Khomeini enjoys widespread public support. Many who support him will be looking for more of the same in a successor.