NewsSpecial WireIran’s extremist Shiite cleric finds new clout

Iran’s extremist Shiite cleric finds new clout

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Iran Focus: Tehran, Iran, Aug. 15 – A radical Islamist cleric based in the holy city of Qom is holding unusual sway over Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the direction of the hard-line government that is about to be installed, according to informed sources in the Iranian capital. Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi is an extremist Shiite cleric who is seen as Ahmadinejad’s ideological mentor. After his victory in the presidential elections, Ahmadinejad travelled to Qom to personally thank the ayatollah for his support. Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Aug. 15 – A radical Islamist cleric based in the holy city of Qom is holding unusual sway over Iran’s new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the direction of the hard-line government that is about to be installed, according to informed sources in the Iranian capital.

Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi is an extremist Shiite cleric who is seen as Ahmadinejad’s ideological mentor. After his victory in the presidential elections, Ahmadinejad travelled to Qom to personally thank the ayatollah for his support.

Mesbah Yazdi regularly advocates the use of suicide operations to fight “the enemies of Islam”. His Persian-language weekly, Parto Sokhan, carries ads for volunteers to enlist for “martyrdom-seeking operations” against the American forces in Iraq or the “Jews in occupied Palestine”.

After the terrible tsunami in Asia last December, the journal wrote that the disaster “was very likely the expression of God’s wrath, because the beaches that have been devastated had become centres of corruption and prostitution and the tsunami killed more than 7,000 sex tourists from the West”.

With the radical Islamists within Iran’s theocratic regime on the ascendancy, Mesbah Yazdi has seen his influence rise sharply in recent weeks. This was evident in the closed-door process that led to the selection of 21 nominees for the new cabinet. The list was drawn up by a nine-man committee that included three representatives of Mesbah Yazdi, according to an ultra-conservative official who was involved in the process.

As a result, the cabinet contains no women or any politician remotely resembling a moderate, as Mesbah Yazdi insisted. More importantly, Mesbah Yazdi was able to place two of his long-time associates and protégés in key cabinet positions, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi as Minister of the Interior and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei as Minister of Intelligence and Security.

The two Shiite clerics will be the most dominating figures in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet.
Both men are close confidants of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and have spent much of the past two decades at the top echelons of Iran’s dreaded secret police, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

More importantly, both men belong to an exclusive clique of powerful clerics at the apex of Iran’s political hierarchy. They are graduates of the Haqqani Theological School in Qom and its graduates, all of them Shiite clerics, now form a curious form of old-boy network within the senior ranks of Iran’s officialdom.

Haqqani was founded in 1963 by four clerics close to Ayatollah Khomeini, who at the time lived in exile in Iraq. The founders of the theological school, who included Mesbah Yazdi and Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, who now heads the powerful Guardian Council, introduced modern syllabus and a new student selection procedure that represented a complete break with age-old methods still in force in Shiite theological schools. After the rise of Iran’s radical clergy to power in 1979, Haqqani’s graduates were promoted to senior positions in the judiciary, the security services, and the bureaucracy.

The “old boys” from Haqqani in the judiciary included Ali Razini, the former head of Tehran’s justice department, Mohammadi Rayshahri, the first Minister of Intelligence and Security, his successor Ali Fallahian, and his deputy Ruhollah Hosseinian, as well as Pour-Mohammadi and Mohseni Ezhei.

Pour-Mohammadi was one of the founders of the clerical state’s notorious secret police in 1984, when he became deputy minister in the newly-established Ministry of Intelligence and Security. When in the summer of 1988 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering the execution of all political prisoners, Pour-Mohammadi was appointed as a member of a three-man committee that was charged with implementation of the decree. Thousands of political prisoners were executed in a few weeks in what the United Nations later described as “one of the darkest chapters in the history of the Islamic Republic”.

Pour-Mohammadi continued to occupy senior positions in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security until 1997, serving three successive ministers, Mohammadi Rayshahri, Ali Fallahian and Qorban-Ali Dorri Najafabadi. He was one of the masterminds of the gruesome murder of dozens of dissidents in the 1990s. One of the victims included Pour-Mohammadi’s own sister-in-law, Mrs. Borghei, who was murdered in Qom by MOIS operatives acting on Pour-Mohammadi’s orders. According to an Iranian journalist who investigated the murder, Mrs. Borghei, who had a secretarial job in the MOIS, knew “too much”.

After 1997, Pour-Mohammadi moved on to the office of the Supreme Leader to head a special intelligence and security department under the responsibility of another cleric, Mir Hejazi.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ezhei spent more than a decade as the revolutionary prosecutor based in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

In the 1990s, Mohseni Ezhei was directly involved in the serial murder of dissidents and issued religious edicts (fatwa) authorising the murders. A defector from Iran’s intelligence services has described how a writer and translator, Pirouz Davani, was abducted and killed on the orders of Mohseni Ezhei.

Mohseni Ezhei was appointed as prosecutor in the Special Tribunal for the Clergy in 1998, and since then he has passed prison or death sentences for many dissident clerics.

The presence of the two heavy-weight hard-liners in Ahmadinejad’s cabinet will give added clout to Mesbah Yazdi, who maintains close ties to both men. The rising power of the graduates of Haqqani Theological School is already having an impact on the increasingly hard-line orientation of Iran’s clergy-dominated government.

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