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Ahmadinejad fires 3 Iran Cabinet ministers

As he moves to reshape the country's government, Iran's president escalates a confrontation with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his loyalists.

May 15, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times
  • Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahmadinejad stirred up anger Saturday when he fired three Iranian Cabinet ministers.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after a news conference in… (Tolga Bozoglu / EPA )

Reporting from Beirut and Tehran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated an unusually public confrontation within the country's leadership Saturday by firing three Cabinet ministers, defying Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his loyalists, who had warned him the move would be unconstitutional.

Ahmadinejad accepted the resignation of the ministers of oil, welfare, and mines and industries as part of a plan to reshape the government by eventually merging eight of the country's ministries into four, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency and letters posted to his own website.

Lawmakers and the hard-line Guardian Council, a body of senior clerics and jurists that serves as Iran's constitutional watchdog, had said that any such change would require the approval of parliament, which is filled with conservatives hostile to the self-styled populist Ahmadinejad and his ambitions.

"Any change in the duties and legal authorities [of the ministers and ministries] as well as the merger of two or several ministries must be approved by the parliament," Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati wrote Wednesday in a letter to the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani. "And any change in the duties and authorities of the ministers and ministries shall not be made before the approval of the parliament."

There were rumbles of anger over Ahmadinejad's move within hours of the announcement Saturday.

Larijani and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both intense rivals of the president, alluded in public statements to a previously undisclosed meeting between the president, speaker and the supreme leader during which they said the dispute over the mergers had been "resolved," suggesting that Ahmadinejad was reneging on a deal.

"The simultaneous removal of three ministers gives out a signal to the society and the international community that the country is unstable," the influential conservative lawmaker Ahmad Tavakoli told the Mehr News Agency on Saturday. "Removing ministers is not in contravention of the law, but is not in national interests in the current situation."

Though popularly elected, Iran's president is junior to the supreme leader and faces challenges to his authority by powerful clerical councils and parliament.

Ahmadinejad's move follows another highly public spat with Khamenei, once considered his patron, over his decision last month to fire the country's intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, for allegedly spying on the president's chief of staff. Khamenei reinstated Moslehi, humiliating the ambitious president, who is seeking ways to prolong his political life beyond the 2013 end of his second term.

Under the restructuring plan, the oil ministry would be merged with that of energy, roads and transportation with housing and development, industries and mines with commerce and welfare, and social security with labor and social affairs.

The mergers, mandated as part of a long-term government plan to reduce the number of ministries from 21 to 17, are meant to streamline the country's bureaucracy.

But many question whether the move would save any money.

"While the country is suffering from 30% joblessness among its educated youth, is now the time to make experienced technocrats idle and jobless?" sniped one former oil ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by Ahmadinejad.

daragahi@latimes.com

Times staff writer Daragahi reported from Beirut and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran.

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