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Ahmadinejad's Security Cabinet

20 Aug 2009 13:352 Comments

Sadegh Mahsouli

Photo: Sadegh Mahsouli (standing) says he is worth $160 million. He was a penniless IRGC officer at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Ali Khamenei, then president, seated on floor.

By MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles | 17 Aug 2009 [updated 20 Aug, see below]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced the list of people who will fill key cabinet positions, including those who will deal with security issues.

The author had already identified four candidates likely to be the next Minister of Intelligence (MI). One of the two top candidates, Heidar Moslehi, was announced as Ahmadinejad's choice to head Intelligence. Moslehi is a mid-rank cleric who is currently the head of the Organization for Islamic Endowments (vaghf) and Charities, which runs a vast network of mosques, endowed Islamic charities, and other endowed organizations. When Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, he appointed Moslehi as his adviser for clerical affairs. At that time Moslehi was the representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in the Basij militia. But, his appointment was protested by many because he was involved with the Basij and, thus, he resigned after three months. Ayatollah Khamenei then appointed Moslehi to his present post.

If approved by the Majles (parliament), Moslehi will probably enhance dramatically the influence of the military in the security and intelligence apparatus because of his ties to the Basij. As previously reported by the author, the increasing influence of the military, particularly the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has been a prime reason for the resignation of many senior figures in the MI.

When former Intelligence Minister Gholamgoseein Mohseni Ejehei and two of his deputies submitted a report to Ayatollah Khamenei, in which they rejected the claim by the IRGC and Ahmadinejad that linked the demonstrations after the rigged presidential election of June 12 to a plan for a "velvet revolution," Ahmadinejad reportedly said during a gathering of the senior staff of the MI, that, "I am not happy with the Ministry of Intelligence." He now has his own man at the Ministry.

The current Minister of Defense (MD), Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, will take over the Interior Ministry. There was already a clue that Najjar would leave his position at Defense and be moved to a new cabinet position: in the Majlis ceremony two weeks ago when Ahmadinejad took the oath of the office, Mohammad-Najjar, a Brigadier General, had appeared in civilian clothes.

Mohammad-Najjar was born in Tehran in 1956. He was active in the 1979 Revolution and joined the IRGC at its inception, three months after the Revolution's victory in February 1979. There was some unrest in the Kurdistan province at that time, and Mohammad-Najjar actively participated in quelling that unrest (which had resulted in extensive bloodshed). He was then an IRGC staff officer responsible for the Sistan and Baluchestan province in southeastern Iran on the border with Pakistan. After Iran's armed forces successfully pushed Iraqi forces from most of Iran in the spring of 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini approved the establishment of a Middle East Directorate, and Mohammad-Najjar, who speaks Arabic fluently, was appointed as its first director. The IRGC dispatched an expeditionary force to Lebanon in the summer of 1982 (after Israel had invaded Lebanon), which was stationed in the Biqa Valley in the eastern part of the country, where it trained the future fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah, which was officially founded in February 1985.

Mohammad-Najjar returned to Iran in 1985. At that time, the IRGC was under the control of the Ministry of the Guards, and Mohammad-Najjar held various positions in the armament industry that the IRGC was setting up. In 1989, the Ministries of Defense and Guards merged under former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Mohaamad- Najjar was appointed the head of the armament section of the Organization of Defense (Military) Industries (ODI), a position that he held until 2005, when he was appointed the Minister of Defense. During his tenure, the ODI was turned into a relatively efficient organization that has played a key role in Iran's rapid advancement in the area of developing new missiles, and turning self-sufficient in producing a large part of its conventional ammunition. He has also played a key role in the expansion of military ties between Iran and Russia, having traveled there several times.

Mohammad-Najjar has a B.Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from the Khajeh Nasireddin Toosi in Tehran, and an M.S. in executive management from the Organization of Industrial Management. He is considered a hardliner among the top commanders of the IRGC.

Mohammad-Najjar's post at the MD will be taken up by Sadegh Mahsouli, the current Minister of Interior. He is known in Iran as the "billionaire minister." When he was proposed by Ahmadinejad to be his first Minister of Oil in 2005, Mahsouli admitted in response to questions asked during his confirmation proceedings in Majlis that his net worth was about $160 million (or 1.6 billion touman in Iranian currency, hence the nickname), although many believe that his net worth is probably much higher. The Majles rejected his nomination as the Minister of Oil, partly because Mahsouli could not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of how he, a dirt poor IRGC officer in 1988 at the end of Iran-Iraq war, could amass such a large wealth during such a short time.

Ahmadinejad then appointed Mahsouli as his adviser. In November 2008, after Ali Kordan, Ahmadinejad's second Minister of Interior was impeached by the Majles when it was revealed that not only did he not have a doctoral degree from Oxford University (as he had claimed), but that his most advanced degree was a simple Associates Degree, Ahmadinejad appointed Mahsouli as his Minister of Interior. (Ahmadinejad's first Interior Minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, was fired). Mahsouli's appointment was narrowly approved by the Majles. As the supervisor of the election, Mahsouli played a key role in events leading up to June 12.

Mahsouli was born in 1959 in Orumieyeh, located in Western Azerbaijan province. He received a B.Sc. degree in civil engineering from Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, where he was a classmate and friend of Ahmadinejad. He joined the IRGC, fought in the Iran-Iraq war, and held high military positions, such as the commander of the 6th Special Forces division, head of the inspection of the IRGC, and deputy MD in charge of planning. He was also the governor of Orumiyeh, and deputy governor-general for the Western Azerbaijan province.

It was during his work in Western Azerbaijan that Mahsouli amassed his initial millions. At that time Ahmadinejad was the governor-general of Ardabil province, which is on Iran's border with the Republic of Azerbaijan. The two nations were swapping oil: Iran would buy oil from Azerbaijan for local use, and deliver equivalent amounts to its southern seaports for export. Ahmadinejad helped put Mahsouli in charge of oil swaps, which made him close to $10 million and got him started in his business ventures. Later, Mahsouli used his connections to illicitly take control of 17,000 square meters of land in one of Tehran's best neighborhood, worth millions of dollars.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's current chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, will be appointed the new Foreign Minister (FM). The current FM, Manouchehr Mottaki, a career diplomat, will apparently leave the government.

Jalili was born in 1965 in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Imam Sadegh (Sadeq) University in Tehran. The University was established in 1982 by the powerful conservative clergy, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the head of the Society of the Militant Clergy. The conservatives' goal in establishing this university (and others, such as the Islamic Azad University, and the Payaam-e Nour University) has been educating and training conservative students to fill Iran's bureaucracy. Jalili's research was on political thinking according to the holy Quran.

From 2001-2005, Jalili was the director-general of the office of the Supreme Leader, where he worked closely with hardliners in that office. An old friend of Ahmadinejad, Jalili was his first choice for the post of FM in 2005, but after he was opposed by various factions within the conservative camp, Jalili was appointed the deputy FM for European and American affairs. In October 2007, after Ali Larijani, the current Speaker of the Majles, suddenly resigned from his posts as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council, Jalili was appointed to both posts. But his inexperience in the nuclear area was so glaring that after his appointment, Larijani accompanied him to Rome for a negotiation session with the European Union.

Jalili has a reputation for being extremely arrogant. He is known to have given long lectures to his European counterparts in nuclear negotiations, repeating himself and his claims without paying much attention to what his counterparts say. He is, of course, a hardliner.

Jalili has played a key role in the June 12 election coup. Together with a few others, such as Hossein Taeb, the Basij militia commander, he was a major player in the "control room" leading the election coup, apparently led by Mojtaba Khamenei, and Major General Mohammad Ali (Aziz) Jafari, the IRGC's top commander. His key role in that affair is now apparently being rewarded by Ahmadinejad.

Update: Although Ahmadinejad had announced the four names in a nationally broadcast program, his choices for Defense Minister and Foreign Minister were opposed by various factions. As a result, he has announced that he will retain Manouchehr Mottaki as the top diplomat and he introduced Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi as the Defense Minister.

As discussed in the article, Saeed Jalili is a hardliner with no skill in diplomacy and diplomatic negotiations. Thus, his appointment as the Foreign Minister was opposed by more moderate elements. Mahsouli has a terrible reputation, and a source told the author that the Armed Forces Joint Headquarters opposed his appointment as the Defense Minister.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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So Iran will have the private army of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to run most of the ministries? What a shame!

shetty / August 17, 2009 8:58 AM

Great piece of critical journalism! keep up the good work

jman / August 23, 2009 9:10 PM