The Incredible Shrinking Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is now discovering what his predecessors in Islamic Iran's unique dual system of government all learned to their sorrow: You serve at the pleasure of the supreme leader, and he prefers his presidents weak.

In the aftermath of a failed attempt by Ahmadinejad to fire Iran's intelligence minister last month, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his surrogates have moved against supporters of Ahmadinejad and of his controversial chief aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.

Two dozen people close to the president and Mashaei have been arrested, including Abbas Amirifar, the prayer leader and head of cultural affairs in the president's office, who reportedly attempted suicide in prison last week. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad's top vice president, Hamid Baghaei, was suspended last weekend from holding political office for four years because of unspecified "violations."

It now appears that Ahmadinejad will be forced to jettison Mashaei, a close friend of 30 years whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son, if the president intends to remain in office through the end of his term in 2013. And even if he does get rid of Mashaei, Ahmadinejad will be a feeble lame duck, a pale shadow of the seemingly superconfident figure who has strutted the world stage since he was first elected in 2005.

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