This is the latest in a series of unusually public squabbles between Ahmadinejad and allies of Khamenei, the Islamic republic's clerical leader, in recent weeks.
Khamenei backed Ahmadinejad through the turmoil that followed his hotly disputed 2009 re-election, urging Iranians to accept the results of the balloting when protesters in the streets declared it a fraud. He presided over a crackdown on the demonstrations, during which security forces were unleashed on crowds and activists were prosecuted and jailed. But elements throughout the government have moved to check Ahmadinejad's efforts to replace top officials and have gone after the president's closest advisers.
The outspoken Ahmadinejad has long been a lightning rod for Iran's critics. But this time he may be vey sorry he butted heads with Khamenei. I looks as if he underestimated the power of Khamenei, and he overestimated his own power.
Top officials and media outlets close to Khamenei have mounted a campaign of criticism targeting Ahmadinejad since mid-April, when (as I told you in a blog recently) Ahmadinejad tried to fire Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi. When Khamenei vetoed the move, Ahmadinejad retreated from the public eye, skipping Cabinet meetings. Khameni then asked a Cabinet Minister to form a cabinet capable of taking power in case Ahmadinejad could no longer continue in office. That brought Ahmadinejad back to the cabinet meetings.
Khamenei has one cardinal principle for Iran's leadership: Settle your differences in private. It appears President Ahmadinejad has not learned that one yet.
In early May, Ahmadinejad publicly swore allegiance to Khamenei and stressed his dedication to the principle of Velayat-e-Faqih, or Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisprudence, which forms the bedrock of Iran's Shiite theocratic rule. But on May 16, Ahmadinejad declared himself the caretaker head of the Oil Ministry as part of an attempt to consolidate Cabinet agencies. That would put him in direct control of the world's third-largest oil reserves, the bedrock of the country's economy. But the leaders of Iran's parliament protested, and the Guardian Council -- Iran's top judicial body, dominated by Khamenei's allies -- ruled last week that Ahmadinejad can't act as the caretaker minister.
Wednesday, the head of the parliament's Energy Commission blamed Ahmadinejad for an explosion and fire at Iran's flagship oil refinery at Abadan that injured six people. The blast occurred when Ahmadinejad was visiting to attend the inauguration of a new unit at the facility, lawmaker Hamid Reza Katouzian said in comments carried by the Mashregh news agency.
"Some of the refinery's managers have said that it happened because they hurried the process of completion of the project," Katouzian said. He said those hurt "were sacrificed because of certain disagreements and the unnecessary insistence to leave the Oil Ministry without a caretaker."
Also, remember not long ago I told you about Ahmadinejad's palace prayer leader, Abbas Amirifar, faceing charges of "sorcery" after producing a controversial film predicting the imminent return of the Mehdi, a messianic prediction that Ahmadinejad often refers to in his speeches. Public criticism also has been focused on his brother-in-law and chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whom Ahmadinejad appeared to have been grooming as a successor. Ahmadinejad's moves appear to be calculated to remain influential beyond the end of his term in 2013.
Ahmadinejad made "a critical mistake" by firing Moslehi without consulting the supreme leader, and by skipping Cabinet sessions after Khamenei reinstated him. He has lost a great deal of power in just the past few weeks. However, Ahmadinejad is unlikely to be forced from office -- that would amount to an admission of a mistake by Khamenei.
Stay tuned, this is a story that will be unfolding over the next six months or year or so and could be very interesting….
Live Long and Prosper....