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Power struggle in Iran escalates

As the Iranian election approaches, a power struggle is escalating. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former favorite of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, is starting to confront the nation's conservatives.

FILE - This Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 file photo released by the official website of the Iranian Supreme Leader's office, shows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, delivering a speech after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seated at left, formally endorsed him for a second term as President during an official ceremony in Tehran, Iran. As Iran's capacity to build nuclear weapons grows, intelligence assessments from nations that follow Tehran's atomic progress discern increasing indecision and squabbling by its leadership on whether to make such arms - and if so, how overtly. Most suggest Ahmadinejad is more circumspect. But an intelligence summary shared recently with The Associated Press sees Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the more cautious of the two and says the Revolutionary Guard is benefiting from the dispute, with some of the authority normally exercised by the president devolving to it. (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader, File) ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES ** EDITORS NOTE AS A RESULT OF AN OFFICIAL IRANIAN GOVERNMENT BAN ON FOREIGN MEDIA COVERING SOME EVENTS IN IRAN, THE AP WAS PREVENTED FROM INDEPENDENT ACCESS TO THIS EVENT

Iran / Chamenei und Ahmadinedschad

February 2 this year was an unusual day in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as an unprecedented scene unfolded in parliament and was broadcast live on the radio. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attempting to prevent his Labor Minister Reza Sheikholeslam from being sacked, accused the representatives of torpedoing his government.

As evidence, the president showed a video which, he claimed, uncovered the secret machinations of parliamentary chairman Ali Larijani and his brothers. He charged the Larijani siblings with corruption and abuse of power.

Several members of parliament protested against the president's declaration, and Larijani defended himself, accusing Ahmadinejad of trying to blackmail him with the video, of using "mafia tactics," and of behaving "beneath the dignity of a president." This heated exchange was considered unique in Iranian politics, where politeness usually goes above all else. The Iranian media spoke of a "Black Sunday" for the country's politics.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani

Ahmadinejad and Larijani clashed in parliament in February

Under the shadow of elections

The scandal is closely connected to the upcoming elections - Ahmadinejad's tenure ends in mid-June, and there is a tough power struggle going on over his succession. Observers say Ahmadinejad's parliamentary rant shows that the president is determined to keep his regime in power well after his reign has ended.

At the same time, the consequences of the tumultuous scenes in parliament illustrate the role that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is playing in the fight. Iran's religious leader initially prevented further escalation by publicly censuring both men, and, for good measure, declaring that Ahmadinejad had violated religious laws by making the secretly-filmed video.

Relations between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have been frosty for months, if not years. The decisive break between the pair occurred in April 2011, when the president forced the resignation of Heydar Moslehi, head of the Iranian secret service, only for the Ayatollah to intervene to ensure that Moslehi returned to office. The humiliated president reacted by refusing to leave his home for several days.

But although Ahmadinejad is often forced to suffer such setbacks in the power machinations, he has begun to defy his former mentor more and more often. Even Khamenei's allies among the Revolutionary Guards are not spared the president's attacks, despite the fact that they made decisive interventions to ensure his election and re-election in 2005 and 2009.

An Iranian woman casts her ballot for parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, March 2, 2012. Nearly 47,000 polling stations throughout Iran take ballots for Iran's 290-member parliament, a vote seen as a political battleground for competing conservative factions in the absence of major reformist parties, which were kicked out of power over the 2009 post-election riots. More than 48 million Iranians are eligible to vote. (Foto:Vahid Salemi/AP/dapd)

The opposition questioned the 2009 election

Populist Ahmadinejad

The 57-year-old president is not allowed to run for election again, but he is pulling strings for his close friend, advisor, and former deputy Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. If Ahmadinejad has his way, Mashaei will succeed him, but the Guardian Council, the authority in charge of the election, has barred him from taking part, a decision that the president is contesting.

One reason why Khamenei did not oust Ahmadinejad before the election was the opposition, led by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Both stood as candidates in the 2009 presidential election, and both were placed under house arrest after they questioned Ahmadinejad's victory and claimed irregularities. To them and their supporters, Ahmadinejad's early dismissal from the presidential office would mean nothing less than a moral victory over Khamenei.

As a result, Ahmadinejad is now exploiting the Ayatollah's difficult position by polarizing political opinion and trying to win popularity among the people. This increasing influence could turn out to be very helpful for his preferred candidate. Iran is facing turbulent times.