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The details are murky, but it appears that there's a power struggle under way in Iran. Among the key players are the supreme leader, the president, the current intelligence minister and the president's chief of staff. The story includes the possible bugging of the president's office and charges of sorcery.
For the moment, the loser in this struggle seems to be President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as NPR's Mike Shuster reports.
MIKE SHUSTER: The story starts with the firing of Iran's minister of intelligence. He is Heydar Moslehi, and he was fired by President Ahmadinejad in March. Then the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reinstated Moslehi. In response, Ahmadinejad refused to attend Cabinet meetings for 10 days.
That was Ahmadinejad's big mistake, says Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii. And it weakened his position substantially, she says.
Ms. FARIDEH FARHI (University of Hawaii): He was told to come back to work in no uncertain terms. Many supporters of Mr. Khamenei went in public and essentially said over and over again that the president of Iran has no legitimacy or support or public standing unless the leader gives him so.
SHUSTER: Why did Ahmadinejad behave like this? It seems he was motivated by loyalty to his chief of staff, a man named Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Mashaei is a highly polarizing figure, one not liked by many other conservatives nor by the supreme leader himself. Ever since he was elected president, Ahmadinejad has put Mashaei at the center of his inner circle, much to the dismay of conservatives in the press and the parliament, says Muhammad Marandi, a political science professor at Tehran University. He was speaking to Al-Jazeera English.
Professor MUHAMMAD MARANDI (Political Science, Tehran University): It seems that, yes, he is very central to what has been going on. He apparently is the person who wanted the minister of intelligence removed.
SHUSTER: According to a widely published story, it is believed that Mashaei wanted Moslehi, the minister of intelligence, removed because Moslehi was bugging his office and possibly Ahmadinejad's office as well.
Hostility toward Mashaei is so intense among Khamenei's supporters that it has led to the arrest of some of Mashaei's associates on charges of corruption, demon-worship and sorcery, says Denver University's Nader Hashemi. Hashemi is the editor of the recently published book "The People Reloaded," about Iran's Green Movement opposition.
Mr. NADER HASHEMI (Author, "The People Reloaded): There's been a series of reported arrests of close allies and friends of Mashaei in particular, claiming that they have been involved in black magic, in distorted interpretations of Shia Islam.
SHUSTER: When in fact this is nothing more than a naked attempt to grab political power, says Hashemi.
Mr. HASHEMI: There's no sort of deep principle involved here. All of them will invoke Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam and political Islam as a way of justifying their political position. But really it's a battle between different Mafia-style political camps, each combating against the other camp in order to obtain political power as a way of advancing their own group's political clout.
SHUSTER: As a result of all this, it has been primarily President Ahmadinejad who has suffered, says Mohammad Marandi.
Mr. MARANDI: The president's position is weakened significantly as a result because his chief of staff isn't popular among the political elite and among parliamentarians and so on.
SHUSTER: Some have even called Ahmadinejad a lame duck, serving out the last two years of his second and final term with greatly diminished status. But, says Farideh Farhi, removing Ahmadinejad or forcing his resignation is not likely.
Ms. FARHI: His resignation would also look bad on Mr. Khamenei. So I would assume that all attempts will be made to prevent that from happening.
SHUSTER: The latest chapter in this story, as of a few days ago, has Ayatollah Khamenei ordering Ahmadinejad to support the intelligence minister or quit. On Sunday, Ahmadinejad returned to work and to a Cabinet meeting with the intelligence minister present.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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