Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born in Garmsar, southeast of Tehran on 28 October 1956. He was the fourth child of an ironworker who had seven children. Mahmoud and his family migrated to Tehran when he was one-year-old. He received his diploma and was admitted to the University of Science and Technology in the field of Civil Engineering after he ranked 130th in the nationwide university entrance exams in 1975. He was accepted as an MS student at the same university in 1986 and obtained his doctorate in 1987 in the field of Engineering and Traffic Transportation Planning.
Following the 1979 Islamic revolution, he became a member the ultra-conservative faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), tasked with acheiving that goal between Universities and Theological Seminaries. The OSU was established by Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, one of Khomeini's key collaborators, to organise Islamist students against the rapidly growing Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK). It was reported that when the idea of storming the American embassy in Tehran was raised by the OSU, Ahmadinejad suggested storming the Soviet embassy at the same time. Reports from hostages at the American embassy alleged Ahmadinejad was among their captors, but he and other captors have denied the allegations.
With the start of the Iraq war in 1980, Ahmadinejad rushed to the western fronts to fight against the enemy and voluntarily joined the special forces of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps (IRGC) in 1986. He served in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps intelligence and security apparatus. Little reliable biographical information has become avaliable about Ahmadinejad during these years.
Ahmadinejad was reportedly a senior officer in the Special Brigade of the Revolutionary Guards stationed at Ramazan Garrison near Kermanshah in western Iran. This was the headquarters of the Revolutionary Guards' "Extra-territorial Operations," for mounting attacks beyond Iran's borders. Reports suggested that his work in the Revolutionary Guards was related to suppression of dissidents in Iran and abroad. Sources associated him with atrocities in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran and alleged he personally participated in covert operations around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
With the formation of the elite Qods (Jerusalem; literally 'Holy') Force of the IRGC, Ahmadinejad became one of its senior commanders. It was reported that he directed assassinations in the Middle East and Europe, including the assassination of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdorrahman Qassemlou, who was shot dead by senior officers of the Revolutionary Guards in a Vienna flat in July 1989. According to Revolutionary Guard sources, Ahmadinejad was a key planner of the attack. He was also reported to have been involved in planning an attempt on the life of Salman Rushdie.
He served as governor of Maku and Khoy cities in the northwestern West Azarbaijan province for four years in the 1980s and as an advisor to the governor general of the western province of Kurdestan for two years. While serving as the cultural advisor to the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education in 1993, he was appointed governor general of the newly established northwestern province of Ardebil. He was elected as the exemplary governor general for three consecutive years.
In 1997, the newly-installed, moderate Khatami administration removed Ahmadinejad from his post as Ardebil's governor general. Ahmadinejad returned to Elm-o Sanaat University to teach in 1997 and became a member of the scientific board of the Civil Engineering College of the University of Science and Technology. There, he participated in various scientific, cultural, political and social activities. He was also said to have worked with Ansar-i Hizbullah (Followers of the Party of God), a violent Islamic vigilante group.
In April 2003 Ahmadinejad was appointed mayor of Tehran by the capital's municipal council, which was dominated by the hard-line Islamic Iran Developers Coalition (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami). In some of Ahmadinejad's public statements, he appeared to identify himself as a Developer.
Ahmadinejad was also a member of the central council of the hard-line Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami). The Devotees publicly endorsed another candidate, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, on 17 June 2005 during the first round of the presidential election. Both the Developers and the Devotees represented the younger generation of Iranians whose political memory, like that of Ahmadinejad, centered around the Revolutionary Guards and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
As Mayor, he reversed many of the policies adopted by previous moderate and reformist mayors, placing serious religious emphasis on the activites of the cultural centers by turning them into prayer halls during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. He closed fast-food restaurants and required male city employees to have beards and wear long sleeves. He instituted the separation of elevators for men and women in the municiple offices. He also suggested the burial of the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war in Tehran's major city squares.
On 26 April 2005 Ahmadinejad said that, in accord with the decision of the city council, the municipality would install a plaque in memory of the victims of Iraqi chemical warfare. "Major crimes have been perpetrated against the Iranian nation, the youth and the war veterans affected by chemical warfare syndrome. We should support the rights of the victims by installing the plaque of remembrance," Ahmadinejad said. "The big powers possess technology to produce chemical weapons and they used the deadly weapons against Iranian soldiers during the Iraqi-imposed war (1980-1988)."
According to sources, Ahmadinejad projected himself as a simple man and reportedly lived a very Spartan lifestyle in a simple apartment flat with his family. He was married with two sons and one daughter.
A major factor in Ahmadinejad's personal life and politics has been his faith. Ahmadinejad's personal religious views reflected that of Hojjatieh Shi'ism, a radical interpretation of Shi'ism with messianic and apocalyptic overtones that predict a period of universal chaos before the return of the Mahdi, the 12th Imam, who went into occultation or hiding. The Hojjatieh was created in the 1950s to eliminate the Bahai faith from Iran. In 1983, Hojjatieh Shi'ism was banned by Ayatollah Khomeini, but was subsequently revived. Analysts put forth the interpretation that Ahmadinejad preceived his personal role to be the divine harbinger of the Mahdi's coming, to pave "the path for the glorious reappearance of Imam Mahdi." Ahmadinejad denied reports that his cabinet members were ordered to write a pact of loyalty with the 12th Imam and cast the pact into the well of Qom where the Imam was believed to reside. Reaffirming his religious views, Ahmadinejad said:
"The ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being [the 12th Imam], who is heir to all prophets. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace. Oh mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one."
A zealous representative of Hojjatieh Shi'ism was Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi of the Haqqani School located in the Iranian city of Qom. The Haqqani school was a school of thought known for advocating clerical control over the government and society. Yazdi also served as the personal marja-e taqlid or "object of emulation" for Ahmadinejad. In Shi'ism, lay persons are expected to have a marja-e taqlid. Yazdi issued a fatwa, or Holy Order, in support of Ahmadinejad's 2005 election.
Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi was dubbed "Professor Crocodile" in a cartoon by Nikahang Kowsar depicting a crocodile strangling a journalist with its tail. Although Kowsar claimed that no specific person was represented, Yazdi's name rhymes with the Farsi word for crocodile, and Kowsar received a prison sentence.
Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi's extreme conservativism exceeded that of even the Supreme Guide Ayatollah Khamenei. He suggested that anyone with a new interpretation of the Qu'ran should be "socked in the mouth," and promoted the continuation of the death penalty and public flogging. He advocated the isolation of Iran from Western influences, and encouraged the faithful to fight against democracy as a "misleading" idea. In November 2002 in a pre-sermon speech in Tehran, Yazdi maintained that "the prophets of God did not believe in pluralism. They believed that only one idea was right."
Yazdi headed various clerical institutions, and reportedly earned an income through his involvement in government businesses such as the sugar trade. Reports suggested that Yazid was the clerical patron of the military-security faction. He was accused of granting religious sanctions to death squads and supporting the mission of suicide bombers. On the subject of Martyrdom, Yazdi stated, "when protecting Islam and the Muslim ummah (community of believers) depends on martyrdom operations, it not only is allowed, but even is an obligation (wajib)." In December 2006, he was elected as one of 16 representatives of Tehran to the 68 member Council of Experts.
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