Details on the bitter conflict between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is afraid of many things, but what concerns him most right now is that his main rival, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seems to be spoiling for a nasty, public fight.
Like mafia gang wars, this fight promises to be brutal. It’s the type of fight in which the civilized world should be rooting for both sides – and throwing gasoline on the fire.
Here’s the information we are receiving from inside Iran: Ahmadinejad had made an attempt to take control of the powerful Ministry of Intelligence when he accepted Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi’s surprise resignation on April 17. Khamenei quickly nullified that resignation, and Moslehi affirmed his support for the Supreme Leader.
However, Ahmadinejad became cocky, making an oblique reference to the mullahs’ attacks on the systematic corruption of his friends and loyalists, and hinting that he had collected a lot of dirt on the mullahs in return.
IranChannel has received reports from Iran that Ahmadinejad succeeded in wiretapping or otherwise electronically monitoring Khamenei’s inner circle, and possibly Khamenei himself.
If so, it’s a case of mutual-assured destruction within the Iranian leadership. And Ahmadinejad seems thrilled at the prospect – even though he lay out of sight for a full week.
The controversy around the Intelligence Minister ripped apart Khamenei’s stated desire for regime rivals to keep their criticisms quiet and out of earshot of the “enemy.”
Khamenei issued three warnings this year to for the rival gangs to keep their differences secret. Those warnings have had little effect.
The source of the conflict is the growing power of the team of Ahmadinejad and his in-law and former chief-of-staff, Rahim Mashai. Ahmadinejad has been maneuvering for Mashai to succeed him as president. The traditional mullahs (those not related to the Revolutionary Guards) are especially fearful, because they perceive Ahmadinejad as seeking to do them in.
The conflict goes back nearly two years, when Ahmadinejad appointed Mashai as his vice president in July, 2009. The mullahs, led by Khamenei, forced Mashai to resign a week later. Ahmadinejad then defiantly poked Khamenei in the eye by appointing his in-law as his chief-of-staff.
At the time, the controversy over Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election and the rise of the Green Movement focused the rival gangs’ attention on the common enemy — the democratically-minded people of Iran and their reformist tactical allies — and the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad rivalry remained hidden after the election. (Previously, Ahmadinejad had openly accused top mullahs of being systematically corrupt, earning a rebuke from the supreme leader)
When the regime placed Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi under arrest and abducted them in February, 2011, they inadvertently created the political space for the rivalry to resume and break out into the open. The mullahs began squabbling again.
This is why on Persian New Year’s Day, Khamenei ordered officials to keep their differences out of the public eye.
The release of a so-called documentary about the Twelfth Imam, titled “The Appearance Is Near,” became a pretext for Islamist enemies of Ahmadinejad and Mashai to voice harsh criticism against the faction, and to warn against what they called “the deviant current.”
The faction is “deviant” because it sprang from the mullahs but went astray. The movie concludes that the three characters mentioned in the hadith of Islamic lore pave the way for the coming of the Twelfth Imam, Mohammad Mahdi. The movie says that the three men who pave the way for the coming Twelfth Imam are in fact Khamenei (“Seyed Khorasani”), Ahmadinejad (“Shaib ben Saleh”), and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrollah (“Seyed Yamani”).
That conclusion infuriated many of the ayatollahs, because it placed Ahmadinejad not only closer to Khamenei, but gives him an apocalyptic role that helps him stay in power. It also diminishes the role of the clergy and gradually outs them from political and kleptocratic power.
Millions of DVD copies of the documentary have been distributed at no charge across Iran, causing conspiratorially-minded Iranians to wonder about the producer, called “The Cultural Group of the Harbingers of the Appearance,” and its financial resources.
The news site of Mashreq, a harsh critic of Rahim Mashai, ran a story three weeks ago that the producer has “special supporters” an allusin to Mashai. The Jahan news site also said that the producers had recently met with a top member of the Mashai team and received encouragement for the film.
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and dozens of others criticized the documentary and warned that it is forbidden in Islam to liken any living person to the characters named in the Hadith. They questioned the motives for producing such a movie. Several ayatollahs took the opportunity to attack the “Iranian school” and “Iranian Islam,” a nationalistic religious ideology that both Ahmadinejad and Mashai have spoken about at length. They embrace the ideology not out of patriotic motives, but as an ideological weapon to attack their rival fellow regime leaders.
This controversy was already underway when Ahmadinejad’s propaganda outlets released word of Intelligence Minister Moslehi’s resignation on April 17. At that time it became clear that the regime was starting to devour itself.
Mutual threats of retaliation
Following the Supreme Leader’s reinstatement of the intelligence chief, Ahmadinejad issued a warning in one of his allied websites, Dolateyar, hinting the president’s ability to blackmail the mullahs. The article was headlined, “If Ahmadinejad opens his mouth . . .”
The next day, April 20, Basij paramilitary chief Mohammad Reza Naghdi, warned that the next internal enemy would be different from the secular democrats who emerged in 2009. “In the last sedition we were confronted by people whose sacriligious attributes were easy to recognize,” Naghadi said. “But in the next sedition, the conditions will be hazy and it would be very difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. It’s possible that we will be confronting a group that, in the name of the Koran and prayers, and a superficial love for justice and Mahdaviat [belief in the efforts to prepare for Mahdi], starts a campaign against the leadership. It is probable that the deviants, under the guise of the pious, stand face to face against the revolution.”
Other former senior officials came forward to say that their abrupt dismissals by Ahmadinejad fit the pattern of the intelligence chief’s, and that they believe the president did not follow the unwritten rule that the Supreme Leader must approval all top appointments and dismissals. One of them was Mohseni Ejei, the former minister of intelligence and current attorney general.
Khamenei acknowledges the conflict
On April 22, Khamenei himself admitted to the existence of the conflict and to Ahmadinejad’s defiance of him. In a speech in Fars province, the Supreme Leader issued another warning:
“Today, the three branches of government are serving the country specially the executive branch and the nation and the leadership will always support those who serve, but wherever the leadership fells that there has been a neglect of a great expediency, it will intervene and until the leadership is alive, he will never allow the slightest deviation in the great movement of Iranians towards their ideals.”
Notice the word “deviation.” Khamenei continued:
“Don’t allow the emergence of dissension and rupture and the realization of the enemies’ desires expressed in their propaganda and malicious policies.Listen to the propaganda in the foreign media about these events that are not even all that important. The frenzy that they have created over it and how they have said in their analysis that a rift and a dual governance has been created and that the president has not obeyed the leadership.”
That seems to be exactly what happened.
Ahmadinejad, for his part, remained defiant. On April 23, Alef News reported that Ahmadinejad was standing firm on his aborted dismissal of intelligence chief Moslehi, and that he refuses to cooperate with him. The president did not invite Moslehi as was customary to the council of ministers meetings, nor did he invite Moslehi to accompany him and all other ministers on an official visit to Kurdistan.
A senior official then said publicly that the “deviants” were trying to oust the traditional clergy and motivated by corruption. Morteza Nabavi, a member of the expediency council, said, “We are now witnessing the appearance of an apparition among the conservatives, the deviant movement, that has gone beyond conservatism and does not hold any regard for this party and considers itself the most influential movement.”
“After the initial transparent positions of the government, this movement gradually adopted ambiguous positions and, in the next step, started drawing a line between itself and the clergy and eventually the supreme leadership,” said Navabi. “While the government’s slogan is fighting corruption, this deviant apparition is moving towards profiteering and extortion.”
On April 24, it was reported that Moslehi was present at the weekly cabinet meeting, but that Ahmadinejad was not.
Then Khamenei issued his third warning. “If there are differences in opinions, you must not frown and give an excuse to the foreign media,” he said in a meeting with the Minister of Interior and police commanders. “Unfortunately the approach of some [domestic] newspapers suggested a duality and a brawl instead of tranquility.” Quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini, Khamenei said, “Say what you want in your meetings but don’t make these discussions public.”