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Iran's president nominates loyalists for new Cabinet, drawing fire from fellow conservatives

TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad submitted a new Cabinet purged of critics and packed with loyalists and little-known figures, and lawmakers on Thursday warned it could face a challenge from members of his own conservative camp in parliament.

TEHRAN, Iran - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad submitted a new Cabinet purged of critics and packed with loyalists and little-known figures, and lawmakers on Thursday warned it could face a challenge from members of his own conservative camp in parliament.

Ahmadinejad is forming his new government while still under a cloud from claims by the pro-reform opposition that his victory in June elections was fraudulent. But he is also under pressure from fellow conservatives, who have long criticized the president for hoarding power by putting close associates with little experience in key posts.

Parliament must approve the new government lineup, setting the stage for a possible fight over the nominees. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, one of parliament's deputy speakers, told state television that Ahmadinejad's list of 18 names was submitted late Wednesday.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani indirectly criticized Ahmadinejad, suggesting his nominees lacked experience and political weight.

"Ministers must have enough experience and expertise, otherwise a huge amount of the country's stamina will waste," he said, according to state radio. "A ministry is not a place for tryouts."

Larijani appeared to focus on the nominee for intelligence minister - Heidar Moslehi, a close Ahmadinejad loyalist - as too inexperienced. "A security official should have a vision" and know how to deal with both security and political issues, Larijani said.

Bahonar also warned that some of the nominees would not be approved.

"Our initial estimation shows some four or five members of the list would not achieve a vote of confidence," he said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

He said the close Ahmadinejad allies named for the posts of health, energy and labour ministers are not as "efficient" as the current ministers holding those posts. For the health ministry, Ahmadinejad has nominated Marzieh Vadi Dastgerdi, one three women he has named - who if approved would be the Islamic Republic's first female ministers.

The parliament will hold a week of discussions on the ministers before voting on each minister separately on Aug. 30.

Six of the nominees are holdovers from Ahmadinejad's previous government, though two of them are being moved to new ministries. Among them is Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who will retain his post.

Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who is close to the elite Revolutionary Guard, has been nominated as the new interior minister, in charge of police. The move could signal an even tougher domestic security stance amid the crackdown on the opposition following the disputed election. The opposition says at least 69 people have been killed in the fierce crackdown by police, the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia.

Ahmadinejad also appeared to have purged conservative critics. Gone from the list were four members of the outgoing government - the intelligence, culture, health and labour ministers - who criticized him earlier this month over his attempt to name a close associate, Esfandiar Mashai, as his top vice-president.

Mashai was sharply opposed by conservatives because of past comments friendly to Israel, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forced Ahmadinejad to remove him from the vice presidency.

Ahmadinejad had already fired his intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, soon after the Mashai controversy, raising a storm of criticism from conservative lawmakers and hard-line clerics. His nominee for the post is a close ally, Moslehi.

Another nominee who could draw fire from parliament is Ali Akbar Mehrabian, whom Ahmadinejad is seeking to maintain as industry minister. Mehrabian has been convicted of fraud in an intellectual property rights case - fueling complaints among conservatives that the president rewards loyalty over competence.

For the key oil minister post, Ahmadinejad named the commerce minister from his outgoing government, Masoud Mir Kazemi, a former Revolutionary Guard commander with no experience in the oil sector. Some 80 per cent of foreign revenue in Iran, the second largest oil producer in OPEC, comes for oil exports.

The retention of Mottaki as foreign minister suggested Ahmadinejad wants to keep the same face to the outside world - though the main issues of foreign policy like the rivalry with the U.S. and negotiations over the nuclear program are mainly in the hands of the supreme leader, Khamenei.

Other nominees were little known figures.

State television's Web site reported that the defence minister nominee was Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, a deputy defence minister in charge of research and development in the current administration. It also named Morteza Bakhtiari, currently a provincial governor, as the proposed justice minister and Mahdi Ghazanfari, a deputy commerce minister, as the nominee for commerce minister.

The three female nominees appeared to be an attempt by Ahmadinejad to show that his movement seeks to promote women despite its hard-line ideology. Besides Dastjerdi for the health ministry, the other two women were education minister nominee Susan Keshavarz - currently head of the ministry's department of disabled students - and welfare ministry nominee Fatemeh Ajorlu.

If approved, they would be Iran's first female Cabinet ministers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that established rule by hard-line clerics. Iran's only other female minister, Farrokhroo Parsay, served from 1968 to 1977 as minister of education. She was executed on charges of corruption after the revolution.

 
 
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