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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an ultimatum over the reinstatement of the country's intelligence chief, an Iranian news site (Ayendeh) reports.  (h/t Ha'aretz) (from DPA).

The website Ayandeh quoted presidential advisor, Morteza Aqa-Tehrani, saying that in a meeting this week between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah has pushed the president to either accept Moslehi or resign.

The Guardian, quoting a characterization of Aqa[Agha]-Tehrani as "Ahmadinejad's moral adviser," likewise reports that he:

told a gathering of his supporters on Friday that a meeting between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei had recently taken place, in which the president was given a deadline to resign or to accept the decision of the ayatollah.  The extraordinary confrontation came to light after Ahmadinejad declined to officially support Khamenei's reinstatement of a minister whom the president had initially asked to resign.  The rift between the two men grew when the president staged an 11-day walkout in an apparent protest at Khamenei's decision. In the first cabinet meeting since ending his protest, the intelligence minister at the centre of the row, Heydar Moslehi, was absent and in the second one on Wednesday, he was reportedly asked by Ahmadinejad to leave.  

Khameini's reported ultimatum shows that he takes seriously his title of "Supreme Leader."  According to the Guardian, "Although Khamenei is not constitutionally allowed to intervene in cabinet appointments, an unwritten law requires all officials to always abide by the supreme leader without showing any opposition."

Clerics close to Khamenei have launched a campaign to highlight his role in Iranian politics, saying that to disobey him is equal to apostasy, as he is "God's representative on earth".

The New York Times, meanwhile, reports: "The unprecedented power struggle between the two most powerful leaders in Iran deepened Friday, spilling out into Tehran’s public prayers where the mullah leading the service indirectly criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while the crowd chanted 'Death to opponents of the supreme leader!'"

Ayatollah Khamenei’s infallibility was the subject of Friday Prayer in at least half a dozen large cities besides Tehran, according to media reports. “It is quite astounding in a way where on a daily basis people are coming out and saying that Khamenei has the constitutional right and the religious right to do what he wants to do,” said Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii. “Ahmadinejad has effectively lost the support of the base. If you do not have the support of Khamenei, you are nobody.”

Khameini appears to be Iran's Stalin, and he is now cracking the whip on his former favorite.

Analysts suggested various possible reasons that the fight may have deepened. Mr. Khamenei prides himself in getting involved in the smallest details of running Iran, and the intelligence ministry is a favorite. Also, the president’s controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, said to harbor presidential ambitions, reportedly initiated the move, they said.

Government opponents accuse the Intelligence Ministry of rigging the election that won Mr. Ahmadinejad a second term, a power Mr. Khamenei may not have wanted him to have again, analysts said. In another conjecture, the supreme leader’s son, Mujtabah Khamenei, who heads intelligence for the Revolutionary Guards, is said to have designs on the ministry.

Whatever the reason, the supreme leader has made his wishes clear. This week, his office released pictures of a religious ceremony with Mr. Ahmadinejad conspicuously absent while Mr. Moslehi sat close by.

But perhaps sorcery can save Ahmadinejad.  Alternatively, charges of sorcery may play the role accusations of Trotskyism, wrecking, and social fascism played for Stalin as he systematically liquidated the Old Bolsheviks.  From the previously-linked Guardian story:

Supporters of Khamenei say that Ahmadinejad is surrounded by "deviants" in his inner circle, including his controversial chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who wants to undermine the involvement of clerics in Iran's politics. Mashaei and his allies have recently been accused of using supernatural powers and invoking djinns (spirits) in pursuing the government's policies.

On Thursday, the commander of the powerful revolutionary guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying: "People [close to Khamenei] are not relying on djinns, fairies and demons ... and they will not stand any deviation [of the government in this regime]."

Indeed, Thursday, the Guardian carried a story entitled, Ahmadinejad allies charged with sorcery.  Some have been arrested.

Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).  Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

A factor in Ahmadinejad's at least seeming to toy with resistance to Khameini possibly may be a split over the imminence of the return of Shia Islam's Hidden Imam Mahdi.

[T]he feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus.

Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film.

Ahmadinejad's obsession with the hidden imam is well known. He often refers to him in his speeches and in 2009 said that he had documentary evidence that the US was trying to prevent Mahdi's return.

Why is the Khameini-Ahmadinejad split coming to a head now?  Abbas Milani, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy Project, writes the following in The New Republic:

While the facts of the on-going confrontation are more or less clear, the important question is why Ahmadinejad, who began his first term as president by kissing Khamenei’s hand on the day of his inauguration, is now biting the very same hand that was certainly critical in giving him his alleged victory in the contested June 2009 election. According to one theory, Ahmadinejad knows the clergy are increasingly reviled in Iran and is keen on either challenging them or at least distancing himself from them. Others attribute his defiance to the arrogance of power, his tendency to believe in his own lies, and his belief that he, in fact, did win the last election and thus need not play vassal to a weakened Khamenei. Needless to say, the conservative clergy attribute the whole crisis to an Israeli and American conspiracy and claim that “infiltrators” from the ranks of the enemy have bedeviled the gullible president.

Why Khamenei has decided to pick a public fight at this time is no less important to ponder. It appears that, once again, he has chosen a path whose goal is nothing more than establishing and expanding his own authoritarian power—the outcome of which will likely leave the regime fractured and weakened, his power utterly dependent on the whim of the Revolutionary Guards. His rash decision has left him with no good outcome: He must either cave and allow Ahmadinejad to fire the minister—and suffer yet another major blow to his authority—or he can succeed in humiliating Ahmadinejad, creating considerable resentment amongst his base of mainly poor, rural supporters.

A third possibility, however, is that Khamenei and his allies might have chosen this public row as an excuse to offer up Ahmadinejad as a sacrifice and blame him for the country’s impending financial woes. By all accounts, the country’s economic horizon looks bleak. (The only good news has been the price of oil.) Many seasoned economists, including several in key positions in the government, admit that the Iranian economy is heading towards a dangerous moment of hyper-inflation and depression-like unemployment rates. With the economy in rapid decline, the search for a scapegoat will likely intensify. The only thing that’s uncertain at this point is who will take the fall.

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