Under Pressure, Iran President Names New Oil Chief

June 2, 2011 - 12:14 PM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdrew as the caretaker chief of the country's vital oil sector and named an ally to run the ministry, state TV reported on Thursday.

A day after Iran's parliament voted to take Ahmadinejad to court for taking over the ministry, the president handed the job to 54-year-old Mohammad Aliabadi. He has served as head of Iran's national Olympic committee, vice president in charge of physical education and head of the fishery organization.

The threat to take Ahmadinejad to court reflected the escalating power struggle between the president and the hard-line establishment that has turned on him in advance of parliamentary election next March and the presidential vote in mid-2013.

Lawmakers were infuriated when Ahmadinejad consolidated a series of ministries without parliamentary approval, fired the oil minister and named himself to the job. The move also technically put Ahmadinejad at the helm of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Iran holds the OPEC rotating presidency this year.

Iran typically earns about $80 billion a year from crude oil exports, roughly 80 percent of its foreign revenue.

In other troubles for Ahmadinejad, 50 lawmakers signed a petition to summon the president to parliament to answer questions. The number fell short of the one-quarter of the membership needed to order a president to appear for questioning before the Iranian assembly. That has not happened since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Those behind the petition want Ahmadinejad to respond to a long list of accusations, including his refusal to carry out laws passed by parliament, withdrawing money from state funds without authorization and his alleged lack of spending transparency.

Also on Thursday, cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, a top official with Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, indirectly warned Ahmadinejad that the force might withdraw its support for him should he continue his disobedience of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters.

The guards were key backer of Ahmadinejad when he was re-elected in 2009 in a disputed vote that sent Iran into its worst internal chaos since the 1979 revolution.

The parliamentary action and warning from the guards were the latest signs of political upheaval since Ahmadinejad publicly challenged Khamenei in April by dismissing Heidar Moslehi as intelligence minister without Khamenei's approval.

Khamenei reinstated the intelligence minister, and Ahmadinejad backed down. Since then the president has been under increasing attack by his rivals in conservative camp.