Aide to Ahmadinejad Approved as Interior Minister in Iran

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TEHRAN, Nov. 18 -- A close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was narrowly approved as Iran's new interior minister by parliament Tuesday.

Sadegh Mahsouli, a former Revolutionary Guard Corps commander turned businessman, replaces Ali Kordan, who was forced to resign Nov. 4 after his honorary Oxford law degree turned out to be fake.

The president called Mahsouli "a strong character" and cited his experience in high-level management posts. "Mr. Mahsouli is one of the best among the Islamic revolution's second generation," he said.

Ahmadinejad also reminded lawmakers of presidential elections scheduled for June 12. "The elections are ahead, and we shouldn't let the Interior Ministry remain unstable," Ahmadinejad said during the session, which was broadcast live on state radio.

"It is obvious that the parliament didn't want to have another political fight with Ahmadinejad," said Mehrdad Serjooie, an analyst at Iran's Center for Strategic Research. "They realized that if they didn't accept Mahsouli, it would create serious problems for Ahmadinejad's cabinet, which has only eight months left in power."

Mahsouli has a history of controversy.

In 2005, when Ahmadinejad nominated him for the post of oil minister, there was widespread opposition, and he decided not to run. Several Web sites posted pictures of a huge mansion in Tehran, said to be his house.

When Mahsouli left the Revolutionary Guard after the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, he started a company, which received many government contracts, the Tehran newspaper Etemaad reported last week. The paper is generally critical of Ahmadinejad's policies.

Parliament and Ahmadinejad's cabinet have had many confrontations in recent months, with both sides obstructing legislation. Kordan's impeachment was marked by a government supporter's efforts to bribe opponents, followed by a fistfight between the supporter and a lawmaker.

After Kordan's impeachment, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed "disappointment" with local media and their criticism of Ahmadinejad's government. "This immoral way of speaking against the government is not something that God will easily forgive," Khamenei said.

On Tuesday, the president emphasized that "there are no problems" between parliament and the government. Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament and an opponent of Ahmadinejad, also told state TV, "There is no conflict."

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