Iran approves hard-line cabinet: loyalty over experience?

The president had been criticized for choosing loyalty over competence. Three of the most controversial new ministers have links to the Revolutionary Guard.

By , Middle East editor

Iran’s parliament approved an overwhelming majority of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet nominees on Thursday, overriding criticisms that he had favored loyalty over competence in choosing some key ministers.

"The president wants to be the ruler in sensitive ministries. So he has introduced people whose major quality is that they are 'yes-men,' " conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari told the Mehr News Agency ahead of deliberations.

Among the most controversial nominees approved were:

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Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, wanted by Argentina for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.

• Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, whom critics say has never worked in intelligence.

Masoud Mirkazemi, who will be overseeing the oil ministry of the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter but who has no previous experience in the industry.

All three – as well as Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar – have been linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that publicly took responsibility for curbing post-election dissent this summer.

And over the protests of conservative religious leaders, lawmakers approved the first female minister in the history of the Islamic republic – Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, who will oversee the Health Ministry. A gynecologist with little administrative experience who has suggested health care be gender-segregated, she was criticized by reformers as too traditional and hard-line to advance women’s rights.

Lawmakers rejected only three of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s 21 nominees, a third of whom had been part of his first administration. Notably, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki retained his post, which is being interpreted as a sign that Iran’s hard-line approach to nuclear negotiations is likely to be upheld.

During the prolonged deliberation period, which began Sunday and was extended a day, Ahmadinejad confronted his opponents, particularly those who had criticized several key nominees’ ties to the Revolutionary Guard, according to Khabar Online. (For more on the Revolutionary Guard read the Monitor’s recent briefing.)

"If we accept this logic that a military figure or a member of Revolutionary Guards Corps cannot serve in the other posts, we will obstruct many ways,” Ahmadinejad said, pointing out that parliamentary speaker and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was a member of the Revolutionary Guard.

Then, reports Khabar Online, an Iranian news website, Ahmadinejad’s tone became confused and furious. Calling himself a “self-sacrificer,” he lambasted those who had insulted him “in the most severe manner” – including implying that he was a puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“For selecting each of these ministers, I firstly convinced myself and then I tried to find a clear explanation for my choices to present to the God Almighty," he said.

Here are the key ministers chosen by Ahmadinjad and confirmed by parliament:

Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi
A former deputy defense minister and chairman of the Expediency Council’s political and defense committee, Mr. Vahidi received the heartiest approval of all Ahmadinejad’s nominees.

Argentina wants Vahidi arrested for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center that killed 85 people; Interpol agreed two years ago to help Argentina seek his arrest, and his nomination as defense minister was widely condemned internationally.

But in Iran, where senior lawmaker and presidential ally Alaeddin Boroujerdi called the international effort to arrest Vahidi a “Zionist plot,” he seems to be something of an anti-Israel hero. After 227 of 286 lawmakers approved his nomination, they chanted “Death to Israel!” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Vahidi is widely reported to be the former commander in chief of an elite unit in the Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force. According to globalsecurity.org, the Quds Force trains Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups in Iran and abroad.

Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi
Mr. Moslehi also has links to the Revolutionary Guard, having served as the Supreme Leader’s representative to the basij, an affiliated force of millions of volunteers who helped to quell protesting after the disputed June 12 election this year.

A cleric, he meets the constitutional requirement that all intelligence ministers come from the robed class, but critics say he has no experience in intelligence. Lawmakers supported him in a vote of 194 to 67, with 25 abstentions.

Ahmadinejad’s last intelligence minister was fired in late July as the president and his allies intensified pressure for the mass trial of more than 100 people arrested in the aftermath of the elections, and the use of confessions believed to be extracted under duress.

According to Rooz Online, the Ministry of Intelligence has created a new branch to figure out who leaked information about the secret burial of those killed in post-election violence.

“It is unfortunate that instead of pursuing those who perpetrate such illegal, unethical and inhuman acts, the Ministry of Intelligence is trying to find out who has exposed the illegal activities and possibly arresting them,” an anonymous source described as a “senior specialist [with] a long record of confronting reformers” told Rooz.

Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi
Ahmadinejad’s former commerce minister, Mr. Mirkazemi is a former commander in the Revolutionary Guard, which has significantly increased its economic power under the current president – particularly in the energy sector. However, he is a newcomer to the Oil Ministry and has no experience in the industry, according to the Associated Press, which notes that 80 percent of Iran’s foreign revenues come from oil exports.

Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad seems convinced his ally is well prepared to run one of the country’s most crucial sectors, calling him a “brave combatant.” Lawmakers voted 147-117 in favor of Mirkazemi, who holds a PhD in industrial engineering a formerly served as chancellor of Shahed University.

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