Saturday, December 03, 2005

Reined in by the Regime

Alan Isenberg and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek International:
Five months after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election as president of Iran, some leading figures in Tehran's "mullahcracy" who backed him as a candidate are desperately trying to rein him in. Last week Iran's Parliament rejected his third nominee for the vital post of Oil minister. And tougher fights loom ahead, as his opponents marshal their forces in the judiciary and the regular Army. Clearly Ahmadinejad has lost the full faith of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic republic. The reason: the new president's choice of mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi.

The man is ultra-fundamentalist with a mystical bent. He is affiliated with the Hojjatieh movement, which is preparing for the return of the 12th imam, who disappeared down a well in the ninth century. The group's teachings undermine the authority of any contemporary "supreme leader," like Khamenei. Thus, in supporting a president who venerates the missing imam above all else and who increasingly holds the loyalty of fundamentalist militants, "Khamenei made a deal with a devil far more powerful than he ever imagined," says Abbas Milani, an Iran expert at Stanford University. Hojjatieh is also said to believe that creating chaos on earth is a virtue, helping to prepare the way for the imam's second coming.

With tensions mounting in Tehran, the Bush administration has steadily toned down its attacks on the Iranian regime. Last week Washington took a back seat while Europe and Russia tried to hammer out a compromise that would stop Iran from making nuclear fuel. With the mullahs now tearing themselves apart, the last thing Washington wants to do is scare them into a new unity.