Why Ahmadinejad Is Dismissing High-Level Iranian Officials

Article excerpt

Many critics say a number of personnel changes by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have to do with the growing influence of one of his closest aides, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei.

As a loyal follower of Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the young head of the National Youth Organization had every reason to expect his string of high-profile jobs would continue.

Yet Mehrdad Bazrpash has been summarily fired. Reports from Iran early this week confirmed that Mr. Bazrpash, whose ideological beliefs mirror the president's and who has often sharply attacked Mr. Ahmadinejad's critics, was sacked by the very man that made him.

It is one of a number of abrupt personnel changes by Ahmadinejad - including the firing last week of Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki - that have elicited complaints from allies and critics alike about the president's "tribal" and imperious style, and the overt influence of one of his closest aides.

Critics point to Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, the presidential chief of staff whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son, as having too much influence on Ahmadinejad.

But despite widespread criticism of Mr. Rahim-Mashaei, including from Iran's top clerical authority, Ahmadinejad has appointed him to a host of senior positions. And Rahim-Mashaei's profile has only grown, recently augmented by an official diplomatic visit to Jordan last week, which added to speculation that Ahmadinejad sees him as a future presidential contender. Rahim Mashaei denies the speculation.

His influence was not lost on one Iranian newspaper run by the hard-line militant group Ansar-e Hezbollah, which this week published a satirical cartoon showing Rahim-Mashaei dismissing Ahmadinejad himself from the presidential post.

Bazrpash appears to have been caught out by the power politics. But the sacking of such an evident "true believer" in Iran's unique Islamic system, a life-long devotee of clerical rule, is raising questions of Ahmadinejad putting politics and loyalty ahead of religious purity.

Ahmadinejad's shifting priorities?

Ahmadinejad "ordered Bazrpash's dismissal" at a cabinet meeting last Sunday, "following Bazrpash's criticism of some of Rahim- Mashaei's interference in the affairs of the National Youth Organization," according to the Tabnak news website.

The report speculated that Ahmadinejad's modus operandi was to solve one crisis by creating another one, in the face of biting United Nations and US sanctions, a highly contentious and painful subsidy reform plan, and many other problems.

A ranking member of the Islamic Guidance Ministry was also reportedly fired Friday, along with another forced from his job just days ago.

"Clearly inside Iran, inside conservative circles, everybody is saying its Mashaei.... The consequence has been that even [the official pro-regime newspaper] Kayhan is attacking Ahmadinejad - everybody is," says Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii.

Rahim-Mashaei has dismissed as a "big lie" accounts that his trip to Jordan was diplomatic overreach. But since the disputed June 2009 election, "it's clear that at least part of the elite has been pushed out, so the ruling circle has become narrower, in terms of ideological orientation," says Ms. Farhi.

"All the conflicts that existed have moved inside that smaller circle [and] as this circle has become smaller, the intensity of conflict has intensified and become more vicious," she adds. …