TEHRAN, Dec. 4, 1978 (UPI) - Thousands of Iranian oil workers walked off their jobs anew today, completely shutting down the operations of two oil companies, cutting production by more than a million barrels a day and seriously threatening the already sha "But they are moving very cautiously," one diplomat said. "The government doesn't want to aggravate an already deteriorating situation by making wholesale arrests."
Diplomats said that two of Iran's five important oil companies were "completely shut down" and a third was "seriously affected by the strike."
According to diplomats, production in the southern oilfields fell from 5.9 million barrels a day to 4.6 million as the strike took hold today.
In Tehran, troops and anti-shah demonstrators battled for the fourth consecutive day.
Heavy gunfire broke out around the British Embassy in Tehran as sporadic battles between troops and anti-shah demonstrations shattered the early morning calm.
Automatic gunfire echoed throughout the streets in a dozen parts of the city as the protesters defied the government's ban on demonstrations and rampaged through crowded districts while shouting anti-shah slogans.
More than 700 black-veiled women attempted to stage a rally demanding an "Islamic nation" but troops scattered them with shots fired into the air.
Oil industry sources said more and more of Iran's 67,000 oil workers were joining the strike.
The sources said several thousand began to walk off their jobs yesterday in the southern oilfields and at refineries in Abadan, Tehran and Shiraz.
"Today it is really spreading," the source said. "Production is dropping rapidly."
The source said the strike would seriously affect the 600,000 barrels per day output of the Abadan refinery, the world's largest.
He said production in the southern oilfields had dropped from 5.5 million barrels per day to 4.5 million and would go down even further.
The oil industry did not appear overly concerned about the strike and sources said some managers welcomed it since the oil producing countries are expected to raise prices this month.
"Western oil companies have been stockpiling in expectation of a price hike," said one source. "This way we'll make more profit by selling them the same thing in January."
In one of the day's worst clashes, imperial troops opened fire on demonstrators near the British embassy and gunfire rocked the area for nearly 40 minutes.
Police sources said the battle began when bank employees attempted to walk off their jobs to join the call for a general strike against the shah's 38-year reign.
Police intervened and opened fire.
A British embassy official said the demonstrators had not attacked the mission but that the fighting was "very close."
Earlier today, two anti-shah demonstrators riding a motorcycle tossed a bomb into a police station, killing three officers.
Witnesses said the youths appeared to be carrying submachine guns.
An unknown group showered leaflets throughout the capital's grand bazaar threatening to blow up the homes of demonstrators trying to overthrow the embattled shah.
"Those who go onto their rooftops to shout slogans in support of the opposition will have their houses blown up," said the leaflets, signed by the underground Committee of Soldiers for a Moslem nation.
Longtime residents said there was no such group and that they suspected the leaflets were "fakes."
Some Tehran shopkeepers opened their doors for the first time in three days, ignoring a call for a general strike by the shah's arch-foe in exile, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Over the weekend, Khomeini loyalists stormed open shops and pulled down their shutters. Stubborn shopkeepers had their stores burned.