First it was Ali Larijani, who resigned as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator in October 2007. Now it’s Manouchehr Mottaki, who was dismissed from his post as foreign minister this month in humiliating fashion, fired while out of the country on a diplomatic mission.
Both had something in common: they were Ahmadinejad antagonists.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never wanted either of them in their positions in the first place, but had to put up with it because they were Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's picks. So he worked to undermine them using a two-pronged strategy.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
First, there appears to have been some straightforward lobbying over their appointments with the Supreme Leader. But Ahmadinejad also looks to have gone further—creating as many obstacles and problems for the two as possible in the hope that they’d either tire of working with him or else be made to look so incompetent that Khamenei himself would seek their removal.
It seems to have worked. In Larijani's case, it took six resignation letters before his resignation was finally accepted, the first five having been submitted after Larijani was reported to have found it impossible to work with Ahmadinejad.
In Mottaki's case, it seems Khamenei simply tired of the constant conflict between the president and his foreign minister. On the surface, it may have looked like the dismissal was down to Mottaki being unable to resolve the mounting list of foreign policy challenges that Iran faces. But although Khamenei likely realizes that many of these problems have in fact been created by Ahmadinejad, the president is still a more important ally than the former foreign minister.
These two are only the most high profile victims of Ahmadinejad, whose appetite for firing subordinates is reminiscent of US businessman Donald Trump in his reality TV show The Apprentice—he has previously fired numerous officials, ministers and the head of the country’s central bank.
So who’s next in Ahmadinejad's crosshairs? There’s one politician who must be starting to worry.
According to a December 6 article in the Tehran-based Farda News, the number of hostile articles written by Ahmadinejad's supporters against one particular politician has almost doubled compared with this time last year. His opponents have described him as ‘anti religion,’ accused him of disregarding Islamic and revolutionary values, and stated bluntly that he has ‘no place amongst the religious and revolutionary people of Iran.’
The target of these attacks? Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran.
If it were up to Ahmadinejad, there’s little doubt Ghalibaf would have been removed long ago.
But even though it’s not up to the president to remove the mayor of Tehran, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried. In what was seen as a highly controversial move last June, 50 members of the Majlis (parliament) tried to introduce a bill whose goal was to transfer responsibility for the election of mayors to the Interior Ministry. It’s rumoured that Ahmadinejad’s government was behind this move, but with its failure the president is left trying to do to Ghalibaf what he did to Larijani and Mottaki, namely creating as many problems for him as possible.