In the unexpected role of social crusader, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech at Kermanshah Wednesday, Jan. 2, “The country’s economy should not be controlled by 3,000 or 10,000 people.” Seventy-six million Iranians still don’t benefit from the country’s oil revenues – “only an elite minority,” he said.
Predictably, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report, the Iranian president’s relations and friends are rushing for the exits: they are selling property and packing their bags ready to quit the country, worried about his fate and their own, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his powerful machine prepared to hit back.
Ahmadinejad is certainly in for serious persecution even before his six months as president are up in June. In his second four-year term as president, he made enemies of the most powerful parts of the ruling establishment: He attempted to overshadow the Supreme Leader, brushed aside the advice of his mentor, the influential religious figure Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, and dared to poke a finger in the eye of the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, by asking why they controlled and profited from the largest slice of the nation’s assets instead of the people.
Now they are all gunning for him, using as their political bludgeon allegations of financial corruption.
But Ahmadinejad has not been put off. Although he sees his undoing written large on the wall, at every opportunity, before even small audiences of 300-400 people, he continues to maintain that the only way the country can save itself is by forcing the redistribution of national wealth.
His message goes down well in the Iranian street and he is beginning to build a grass-roots power base that may help protect him from retribution by Khamenei and his henchmen. The “elite minority,” which need to be relieved of their assets, was easily understood to impugn the super-rich, like Khamenei’s own son Mojtaba and some of the Revolutionary Guard commanders.
Our sources in Tehran say that many of his associates have already taken the precaution of removing themselves to safety in the United States or Europe; others are keeping their heads down or knocking on the president’s door to wangle foreign postings so long as he has the clout to disburse them. One such prominent figure is Hamid Baqa’I, the president’s deputy for executive affairs. In two months, he is due to take up the post of Iranian ambassador to UN institutions in Geneva and New York, in place of the incumbent Mohammad Khaza’i.
Ahmadinejad is going through the motions of promoting his close aide Esfandyar Rahim Masha’I, who is also the father of his daughter-in-law, as presidential contender in June. But he knows it is a lost case. Masha’i is also likely to end up at a foreign posting with his family, when his candidacy is disqualified by the Guardian Council of the Constitution which is under Khamenei’s thumb.
Foreign appointments also appear to be in the works for some other members of Ahmadinejad’s inner circle, such as Seyyed Hossein Moussavi, Malek-Zadeh and others.
But not all his hangers-on are getting a sympathetic hearing. Our sources in Tehran have learned that the president lost patience this week when a bunch of his cronies confronted him with demands for cushy overseas appointments. He threatened instead to fire some of them Under heavy criticism for mismanaging the Iranian economy, he may use the opportunity to assign the blame to his less favorite advisers, sweep them out and replace them with new faces. One of the most prominent heads on the block may be First Vice President and de facto prime minister Mohammad Reza Rahimi.
Rahimi stirred an international furor by his anti-Semitic remarks which accused Jews of “spreading narcotics around the world in accordance with the teachings of the Talmud … whose objective is the destruction of the world.” He almost outperformed his boss, now turned social crusader, who more than once attracted international condemnation for his inflammatory remarks about Israel and Jews.
Most recently, Ahmadinejad called his close cronies together for a pep talk. He told them he held an insurance policy for his and their survival: the secret dossiers of 300 top Iranian officials containing detailed records of their misdeeds. He obtained them by rifling the archives of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security during the brief period after he sacked the intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, and before Khamenei forced him to reinstate the minister a week later.
He and his staff had meanwhile combed through the incriminating files and made copies of them which were now held safe in the presidential office.
Khamenei, who has the support of the bulk of Iran’s political and military leaders, knows all about Ahmadinejad’s plans and is determined to eliminate him one way or another and make sure that the 300 dossiers never leave the president’s office.
More than once, Ahmadinejad has implied recently that he would make their contents public if he or members of his clique were charged with corruption or the misappropriation of state funds. For now, he is weeding out of his administration the officials he regards as its Achilles heels – according to our sources, the first scheduled to go are Oil Minister Rostam Qassemi and Interior Minister Mohammad Mostafa Najjar.
The Iranian Oil Ministry is a notorious hotbed of financial embezzlement, whereas the Interior Ministry is responsible for organizing the upcoming presidential election and Ahmadinejad would prefer one of his confidantes to be sitting in that office.
Only last week, he sacked Health Minister Marzieh Wahid Dastjerdi for remarking that Ahmadinejad prefers to earmark foreign currency for importing dog food rather than medicines. Her dismissal put many backs up against the president in the top echelons of government.
President Ahmadinejad was publicly warned this week to shut his mouth and stop ruining his reputation by Esma’il Kovsari, Khamenist adherent and powerful parliamentary voice. Kovsari pointed out that the Revolutionary Guards helped Ahmadinejad come to power as president and supported him on many occasions and so he must not turn his back on them now.
Another supporter of Khamenei, Al Sa’idi, said that most regime heads are now sorry they brought Ahmadinejad to power because he has become a different person.
Does this royal battle within the Iranian establishment affect its nuclear plans? The answer is no. Will crucifying the president cause rioting over the summer election? Not likely. Politically, Ahmadinejad is on his way out and leaves the stage to the most radical elements of the regime. And physically? Well, car accidents are a common feature of the Iranian political scene.