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Are Iran's Leaders About to Get Rid of Ahmadinejad?

Could Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be facing the ultimate pink slip? Could his job as president be threatened by a severe rift within the Iranian leadership?

The possibility is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

A major rift between Ahmadinejad and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei surfaced after the president’s dismissal of the minister of intelligence in April and his subsequent reinstatement by Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad has often said hat he will not remain quiet in light of the arrests of his close associates and the daily attacks against him and his inner circle.

These days in Iran, the supreme leader’s supporters refer to the president as the “deviant current,” and talk openly of those who abuse power and wealth and seek to deviate from the path of the Islamic Revolution.

In the past, similar condemnations have led to the death penalty or even elimination.

Ahmadinejad has publicly stated that the arrest of any member of his cabinet would be a line in the sand for him. He’s warned the Iranian Justice Department to back off or face dire consequences.

It didn’t take long, however, for Justice Department officials to respond, saying there is no line in the sand and that any official who breaks the law can, and will be, arrested and prosecuted.

To make sure that Ahmadinejad understood his limitations, the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Ali Jafari, entered the fray by stating that the Justice Department has now commissioned the Guards to deal with the “deviant current.”

But it doesn't end there.

Next, the Iranian president made his boldest move yet against the Revolutionary Guards -- the very force that had, until now, secured his presidency. He accused the Guards of being “smuggling brothers” in security and intelligence. He said they earn billions of dollars in illicit profits by conducting their illegal operations from ports around the country. He knows their secrets, he warned, and is ready to reveal much more should the confrontation escalate.

It’s true that the Revolutionary Guards have their hands in all aspects of the Iranian economy, with hundreds of billions of dollars being generated from their operations: from the gas and oil industry to automobiles and the imports of basic goods.

Ahmadinejad’s threat was not taken lightly and once again Jafari responded with his most serious warning to date. The Guards are in possession of new information, he said, that proves the enemy is intent on creating instability in the country by assassinating top officials. He recounted a similar caution recently issued by the intelligence minister. All officials, he said, should be aware of their surroundings.

The radicals ruling Iran have often used similar statements to send a strong warning to the opposition that they will be taken out should they persist with their position.

The moderates in Iran have often been silenced by just such threats.

However, with Ahmadinejad, that may provide the best solution for Khamenei.

Both the supreme leader and the Guards’ leadership supported Ahmadinejad in the fraudulent presidential elections of 2009 when Mir Hossein Mousavi was ordered to stand down and accept defeat, even though he had legitimately won the election. In the ensuing uprising, tens of thousands of Iranians were arrested and tortured, many executed. Thousands remain in prisons across Iran. With the leadership’s support of Ahmadinejad in suppressing countless courageous Iranians, the Islamic Republic lost any shred of  legitimacy around the world as its cruelty unfolded.

And then the president and the prelate turned on each other.

In the end, the regime may not be able to sustain itself should this internal conflict become even more confrontational.

As I reported recently, the Guards have been ordered by the supreme leader to be ready with an operational plan to take control of all governmental offices, ministries and the presidential administration should the confrontation between the two sides escalate to such a degree that it would pose serious threat to the survival of the regime.

The Guards face their own dilemma, however, because dissent has been growing among its forces since the bloody suppression of the uprising in 2009. Many are supporters of the Green Movement, while many others back Ahmadinejad. The growing rifts could further alienate the very force that has served as the backbone of the regime.

Though the elimination of Ahmadinejad, especially in a violent fashion, would make headlines around the world, it would also provide an easy way out for the radicals ruling Iran. They would then blame “the Great Satan” (aka the United States) and Israel for trying to bring down the Islamic regime. It would also serve to unify the regime’s supporters and terrify any opposition from within.

The Islamic mob running Iran has often used this tactic in a time of instability and uncertainty. One only needs to look at the history of the regime where a president, prime minister, parliamentarians and party leaders have all been assassinated before. Each time the regime rallied its supporters, claiming enemies of Islam were always at work to hurt this global movement for the glorification of Allah.

Ahmadinejad, who truly believes his rise to power was mandated by Allah, should realign his position or he will soon experience the bitter taste of standing on the wrong side of the regime — the very regime that he once was part of — the very regime that since its inception not only has killed tens of thousands of Iranians seeking freedom, but has shown no hesitation in taking out its own children.

Reza Kahlili is a pseudonym for an ex-CIA spy who requires anonymity for safety reasons. He is the author of "A Time to Betray, "about his double life as a CIA agent in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. It was published by Threshold Editions, Simon & Schuster, April 2010. "A Time to Betray" was the winner of the 2010 National Best Book Award, and the 2011 International Best Book Award.