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Reports are coming out of Iran that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be forced out of power before the end of his second term as president. According to Iranian observers,  Ahmadinejad tried to challenge the powerful clerical establishment, but the “Supreme Leader”  Ali Khamenei who is the real power figure in the government not only objected and rebuffed the president, but began to arrest some of his top minister’s and advisers.

According to the UK Guardian:

In recent days, Ahmadinejad and the men described as his strongest allies – his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, and executive deputy, Hamid Baghaei – have come under direct attack from senior figures in the powerful Revolutionary Guards and some of most important clerics in the Islamic regime.

Ahmadinejad’s many enemies across the political and religious spectrum have scented blood after the arrest of at least 25 people close to him and Mashaei. The president’s immediate entourage has been reduced to a handful of serious people and has faced accusations of corruption, revolutionary “deviancy” and even espionage.

Those who aren’t under arrest or pressure are  giving  Ahmadinejad the “ooh you got cooties” treatment such as the Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who used to be a strong ally:

In a recent interview with an Iranian publication, Yazdi said: “That a human being would behave in a way that angers his closest friends and allies and turns them into opponents is not logical for any politician.” .

He told Shoma Weekly that he believed “with more than 90% certainty” that Ahmadinejad had been bewitched”. “We saw that this questionable person [Mashaei] has conquered this gentleman [Ahmadinejad] and is in his fist,” he said.

Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, a close ally of Khamenei and head of the Guardian Council, also attacked Ahmadinejad directly. “We did not expect this from him,” Janati said. In a reference to Mashaei, he said that “some people seek to cause a deviation, and act against the country and the supreme leader”.

Others in the Iranian ruling class have piled on:

“It is like wolves who have been waiting for a sign of weakness and they are now lunging in,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of book on Ahmadinejad, The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.

In the latest sign of his dwindling authority, Ahmadinejad’s bid to streamline his cabinet and merge eight ministries into four was blocked by the supreme leader in a private meeting attended by the parliamentary chief, Ali Larijani.

Unable to proceed with his initial plan, Ahmadinejad fought back by dismissing three ministers and temporarily taking over the oil ministry but drew unprecedented criticism from Khamenei’s camp.

On top of the criticism coming the Supreme leader’s pals Ahmadinejad is also losing favor with the Iranian populace.  Recently he scrapped  long-standing subsidies on fuel, food and other staple items, an the people aren’t very happy.

With zero growth projected this year, organised labour is beginning to flex its muscles. Last week, some union members refused to go to work, in protest at delayed salaries and rising unemployment. They blamed Ahmadinejad for the crisis.

…..Ahmadinejad, whose presidency is limited to two terms under Iranian law, must step down in 2013. The depth of rift with the supreme leader has raised speculation he might leave early, triggering a crisis.

Some are comparing him to Abdulhassan Banisadr, Iran’s first post-revolutionary president, who was impeached in 1981 after clashing with Ayatollah Khomeini and forced to flee the country.

Speaking from Paris, Banisadr said: “Khamenei is so fed up with Ahmadinejad that [the president] might not even survive before his term finishes.”

Don’t start throwing a party yet, Ahmadinejad is a scrappy tyrant, he “ain’t dead yet.” On the other hand the Supreme leader is 72 and there are reports that he is suffering from terminal leukemia.

In the end it might not even matter, if either Khamenei or Ahmadinejad are replaced, chances are those replacement will not moderate Iranian policy.

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