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Iran's Ahmadinejad may face tough fight over cabinet

TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected on Wednesday to nominate a relative novice as oil minister and seek to bring women into the cabinet for the first time -- but he may face a hard fight to win approval from parliament.


EDITORS' NOTE: foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran. (REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/Files)
The outcome will be a further signal as to how secure Ahmadinejad's grip is on power after political setbacks following his contested re-election in June that led to street protests and political turmoil.

A presidential adviser said Ahmadinejad would name current Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as new oil minister in the Islamic Republic, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter.

Parliamentary affairs adviser Iraj Nadimi said the president would propose to the assembly that Manouchehr Mottaki stays on as foreign minister, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Several key nominees -- Mirkazemi and the intelligence and interior ministers -- have a background with the elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Mirkazemi is a former deputy head of a Guards university.

Seen as fiercely loyal to the values of the Islamic Republic, the force's influence appears to have grown since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Two thirds of his first 21-man cabinet four years ago were IRGC veterans, like himself.

Ahmadinejad has until later on Wednesday to officially present a cabinet to parliament for approval but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from moderate foes who see his government as illegitimate.

Vice speaker Mohammad-Reza Bahonar said parliament had not yet received the president's cabinet list and expressed hope to receive it by the end of the day.

"If the president does not send the list of proposed ministers, it would be the first case of law violation by the tenth government," the Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying.

Mirkazemi, an industrial engineer who has little known experience of the oil sector, would be a surprise choice for the high-profile position of oil minister.

He was not on a shortlist of candidates carried by IRNA two weeks ago, but is seen as an Ahmadinejad ally. He would replace Gholamhossein Nozari.

Parliament must approve the proposed cabinet, which according to IRNA's incomplete list includes three women -- at the health, social welfare and education ministries.

It would be the first time that women would hold ministerial positions in the Islamic Republic.

"NO EXPERIENCE"

MPs are due to start debating and voting on the proposed cabinet line-up later this month.

"If the proposed ministers do not have the necessary experience and knowledge ... and are not able to carry out their duty, parliament will act tough with them," conservative politician Parviz Sarvari told ISNA news agency.

Ahmadinejad, a hardliner who was re-elected for a second four-year term in the disputed June 12 vote, failed to get his first three choices for oil minister appointed in 2005 because of parliamentary opposition.

Some of his supporters have abandoned him since the disputed vote which led to the most serious disturbances since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Some powerful figures, including two former presidents, have criticised his government's handling of the vote though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged parliament to rally round the president and approve his new cabinet.

The website of the Hamshahri newspaper said Mirkazemi, born in 1960, had managed petrochemical projects in the past but gave no details. "As far as I know, he has no experience of the oil industry," said one sector expert in Tehran.

Oil exports account for most of Iran's state revenue. The next minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme.

The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its programme is aimed at peaceful power generation and has ruled out suspending or freezing its activities.

The move to nominate female ministers appeared to be an attempt by the president to shore up his support among women.

But one women's rights campaigner said the nominees were conservatives who were unlikely to promote female rights.

Among other nominees, IRNA said current Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar -- a high-ranking Guards officer -- would be proposed as interior minister. It said the defence ministry job was one of three posts still to be finalised.

Heydar Moslehi, Khamenei's former representative in the Guards' ground force, would become intelligence minister after his predecessor was sacked and Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini would retain the post, according to IRNA's list.

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