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What is Ahmadinejad up to?

The President begs to differ with the Ayatollah: Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke in front of thousands of government supporters gathered in a covered arena at Tehran University. The president appeared unafraid to effectively contradict the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday said he was not convinced that reform leaders had conspired in advance with ...

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech during the weekly Friday prayers at Tehran University in the Iranian capital on August 28, 2009. Ahmadinejad called for the first time for the punishment of opposition leaders over the unrest unleashed by his disputed re-election. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

The President begs to differ with the Ayatollah:

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke in front of thousands of government supporters gathered in a covered arena at Tehran University. The president appeared unafraid to effectively contradict the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday said he was not convinced that reform leaders had conspired in advance with foreign forces to orchestrate the post-election unrest. The supreme leader did, however, stick by the government’s claim that the protests were planned.

The President begs to differ with the Ayatollah:

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke in front of thousands of government supporters gathered in a covered arena at Tehran University. The president appeared unafraid to effectively contradict the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Wednesday said he was not convinced that reform leaders had conspired in advance with foreign forces to orchestrate the post-election unrest. The supreme leader did, however, stick by the government’s claim that the protests were planned.

If Ayatollah Khamenei was hoping to blunt calls for revenge, more arrests and severe punishment, Mr. Ahmadinejad showed no signs of softening.

“We must deal with those who led these events,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “Those who organized, incited and pursued the plans of the enemies must be dealt with decisively.” […]

His remarks were clearly aimed at Mir Hussein Moussavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — some of the most important and influential figures in the Islamic republic’s 30-year history — whom the president has wanted to jail as enemies of the state.

In the past, Ahmadinejad has always backed down quickly from disagreements with the Supreme Leader. The president now seems intent on a confrontation and clearly thinks he’s got the support and the muscle to get his way. It’s seems pretty risky to say the least, but the rift is clearly coming to a head. As Stanford’s Abbas Milani tells the New York Times:

“I honestly believe the cracks in the leadership are so severe, I don’t think they will be able to heal this.”

Update: Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, thinks “this might just be theater.” Reached by e-mail, he told FP that “Khamenei wants to try and rehabilitate his image as a magnanimous leader who stays above the fray, and hence he issues more conciliatory statements … while giving [Ahmadinejad] free reign to be the attack dog.”

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Iran

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