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Iran: A Slimmed-Down Cabinet Gets To Work

By Bill Samii

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad chaired the first session of his new cabinet on 25 August in Mashhad at the shrine of Imam Reza, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "We have come to such a holy place to be inspired before rendering services to the nation," Ahmadinejad told journalists at the Mashhad airport before the meeting.

It seems a good time for inspiration, considering that one day earlier the conservative-dominated legislature rejected four of the 21 people he had nominated for cabinet seats. The legislature's rejection of the four men is yet another sign of the cleavages within the hard-line movement.

And The Winners Are...

There were 284 members of parliament present at the 24 August session, and each nominee had to secure a minimum of 143 votes to win approval. The four who failed to win enough votes are: Alireza Ali-Ahmadi (Cooperatives Ministry), Ali Akbar Ashari (Education and Training Ministry), Mehdi Hashemi (Welfare and Social Security Ministry), and Ali Saidlu (Oil Ministry). Ahmadinejad has three months to submit new names, and he has already appointed caretakers at the Cooperatives and Welfare ministries.

The new cabinet members who were approved by parliament are: Minister of Commerce Masud Mir-Kazemi; Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Suleimani; Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar; Minister of Economy and Finance Davud Danesh-Jafari; Minister of Energy Parviz Fattah; Minister of Foreign Affairs: Manuchehr Mottaki; Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education: Kamran Baqeri-Lankarani; Minister of Housing and Urban Development Mohammad Saidi-Kia; Minister of Industries and Mines Ali-Reza Tahmasbi; Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Gholam-Hussein Mohseni-Ejei; Minister of the Interior Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi; Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Mohammad-Hussein Safar-Harandi; Minister of Justice Jamal Karimi-Rad; Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Mohammad Jahromi; Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mohammad-Mehdi Zahedi; Minister of Transportation: Mohammad Rahmati;

Five ministers have served in or worked for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and three others have a background in security institutions. This is yet another sign of the rightward drift of Iranian politics.

A Rough Experience

The rejections are a clear message from the legislature to the executive branch that it will not be a rubber stamp. Ahmadinejad submitted the names of prospective ministers on 14 August. The legislature began its debate on 21 August, after Ahmadinejad spoke on behalf of the nominees and introduced his government's program.

It was clear from the time he submitted the names that it would not be a trouble-free process.

Saidlu is considered an ally of Ahmadinejad, but the rejection of his bid to head the Oil Ministry was not unexpected, mainly because of his lack of experience in this sector. Parliamentary debate over Saidlu got ugly on 24 August, with one legislator asking how Saidlu earned a doctorate at an American university at the same time that he was serving as Tehran's deputy mayor, Mehr News Agency reported. Saidlu admitted that he earned his degree at Hartford University, an institution that offers online degrees

The nominee for interior minister, Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi, came in for a grilling at the legislature on 24 August, although he eventually secured 153 votes, with 90 against and 31 abstentions.

Conservative legislator Imad Afruq noted that Purmohammadi was a deputy minister of intelligence and security in the mid- and late 1990s when the ministry had a reputation for repressing the domestic and expatriate opposition, state television reported. Afruq said the things that happened at the ministry are indefensible, and he asked if there were no other choices. "Was there no one else with his record, but without this past among our clergy or non-clergy? Do we have no one else?" In light of this record, Afruq asked, what would Purmohammadi do to guarantee people's rights? Afruq also demanded to know how Purmohammadi would deal with the country's ethnic problems, adding that although there is no systematic discrimination in Iran, Kurds feel discriminated against.

Tehran representative Elias Naderan expressed concern that a person with Purmohammadi's background could turn Iran into a police state, Mehr News Agency reported. How can somebody with this background establish a rapport with the public, he asked.

Appointees Could Be Influential

Other executive-branch officials are appointed without parliamentary confirmation. Some of these appointments appear to be straightforward payoffs for support during the presidential race, but they also shed some light on the connection of the Ahmadinejad administration with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and its affiliated Basij Resistance Force. For example, Ahmadinejad appointed a "Hojatoleslam [first name not given] Moslehi" as his adviser for theological and cleric affairs on 15 August, IRNA reported. This is probably Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader's representative to the Basij Resistance Force, and the appointment is possibly his payoff for the Basij's decisive role in Ahmadinejad's victory.

Ahmadinejad also appointed Hojatoleslam Gholam Hussein Elham as his chief of staff on 15 August, ILNA reported. Elham is a member of the Guardians Council, and he also is its spokesman. The council is tasked with supervising elections, and it also faced accusations from unsuccessful candidates in the June 2005 presidential election. So this appointment could be a payoff, too. Yet Elham also has a connection with the Basij and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) -- he reportedly performed special missions as a Basiji during the last two years of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and from 1980-84 he was a prosecutor with the IRGC's courts.

The appointment that will have the biggest impact on Iran's relationship with the international community is that of Ali Larijani, the new secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. He has the lead on the issue of the country's nuclear program, and he is likely to overshadow the new foreign minister. Larijani and Ahmadinejad have already indicated that they have little interest in mollifying international concerns.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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