IRAN: Constitutional watchdog rejects Ahmadinejad's bid as caretaker oil minister
Iran's conservative establishment struck hard again at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday, squashing his bid to take over as the country's caretaker oil minister ahead of a controversial government restructuring plan he's pushing.
The Guardian Council, a powerful body of clerics and jurists appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and parliament, ruled that Ahmadinejad's decision to dismiss the oil minister and name himself caretaker over the country's vast energy resources was "illegal," the semi-official Fars news agency reported (link in Persian).
The news report, by an agency close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said that the constitutional watchdog had not published a text of its decision and did not cite a source, but it said that Ahmadinejad's decision allegedly violated article 135 of the constitution, which governs the dismissal and appointment of Cabinet ministers.
The decision marks yet another blow to Ahmadinejad in a power struggle with Khamenei and his allies as the president tries to establish a legacy in the final stages of his term.
Ahmadinejad will have a tough time challenging the council's decision. Taking the matter up with the Expediency Council, which resolves disputes betwen Iran's branches of government, is out of the question -- it's led by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who despises Ahmadinejad.
As self-proclaimed caretaker oil minister, Ahmadinejad was all set to attend what was set to be a routine June 8 meeting of OPEC in Vienna, a prospect that has alarmed energy analysts as well as Iranian officials.
Ahmadinejad's behavior lately seems designed to provoke a conflict with his rivals in the political establishment. He recently authorized his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, despised by conservatives and the clergy, to launch a new university, outraging regime stalwarts who see themselves as guardians of the country's cultural space.
In an interview published this week, his one-time spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, speculated that Ahmadinejad had gone off the deep end.
"For someone to act in this manner and treat their intimate friends and closest colleagues in a way that they feel offended and begin to stand against them is not a logical move for any politician," Yzdi told the magazine Shoma.
He suggested that Mashaei might have "charmed" Ahmadinejad because the president's actions were "illogical and unnatural."
"There is something unnatural in this matter," he was quoted as saying. "We witnessed how this questionable individual [i.e. Mashaei] has harnessed [Ahmadinejad] and is holding him in his fist."
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks past a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he arrives at a news conference in Istanbul May 9, 2011. Ahmadinejad is in Istanbul to attend the 4th U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries. REUTERS/Murad Sezer