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Iran's president purges intelligence ministry

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaces longtime officials with loyalists. The son of a former intelligence chief accuses the president of retaliation against those who have not supported his reelection.

August 10, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Iran's president has conducted a purge of the nation's Intelligence Ministry, sweeping aside ranking officials with decades of experience in favor of loyalists, said a lawmaker, several news websites and a former intelligence chief's son.

The move, chronicled by news outlets Sunday, underscores the deep rifts and disarray within the highest echelons of the country's security apparatus since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 reelection.

Analysts say the purge does away with decades of intelligence experience. Even after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, chose to co-opt the shah's clandestine services into his new government rather than start from scratch.

"Ahmadinejad has practically taken command of the most significant security organ in the country and is embarking on a retaliation project," Hassan Younesi, the son of former Intelligence Minister Ali Younesi, wrote in letter posted on his blog late Saturday. "Never has the Intelligence Ministry witnessed such a politically motivated purge since its establishment. This gesture will certainly inflict heavy damage on the management of the ministry."

Officials in the Revolutionary Guard allied with the president have moved to rid the powerful Ministry of Intelligence and Security of senior officers deemed disloyal to Ahmadinejad and his allies, the analysts say.

Ahmad Avai, the lawmaker, accused Ahmadinejad of "settling scores" with ministry officials who had showed unspecified disloyalty to him, according to an interview published by the news website Fararu.com.

"We have to be worried about the ongoing cleanup at the Intelligence Ministry, and the persistence of this trend will irreparably harm the ministry," he said, describing the dismissed officials as "pious, experienced and law-abiding."

Among those sacked were the ministry's No. 2 official and the chief of counterintelligence, Younesi said. News website Alef.ir, close to conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli, said those leaving include the head of the ministry's technology department, a 25-year veteran; its parliamentary liaison; and the chief of ministry security, who is said to be a confidant of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Some analysts say Ahmadinejad was enraged at the ministry after its leader, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, opposed the airing of taped confessions extracted from detained election protesters and politicians. The president fired Mohseni-Ejei last month.

Analysts have also said that many in the ministry supported presidential challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi over Ahmadinejad, and that Mohseni-Ejei allowed a group of intelligence personnel to deliver a report to Khamenei chronicling massive fraud in the election.

Ahmadinejad last month made himself temporarily de facto chief of the agency, which has operatives and offices across Iran. Hossein Taeb and Ahmad Salek, two hard-line clerics loyal to the president and close to the Revolutionary Guard, now control the vast human intelligence and electronic monitoring infrastructure, Younesi wrote.

Ahmadinejad said he would seek parliament's approval for a new Cabinet, including an intelligence minister, by mid-August. By law, the post must be filled by a cleric. Traditionally, Khamenei must also give his blessing to the person filling the crucial position.

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daragahi@latimes.com

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