The latest political flap in Tehran involves a forged doctoral decree and bogus academic credentials for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's newly appointed Interior Minister, Ali Kordan.
Apparently Tehran's ayatollahs do not falsify only photos of missiles being fired or documents of nuclear activities; the academic credentials of senior officials are also counterfeit. One can only imagine the level of fraud in the next round of elections, supervised by Kordan's Interior Ministry!
The scandal sheds light on the pervasive corruption in the ayatollahs' regime, while the revelation itself exposes the widening cracks at the apex of power. During recent parliamentary debate on Kordan's nomination, a conservative cleric, Ruhollah Hosseinian, questioned the veracity of Kordan's doctoral diploma. In the past, Hosseinian has demonstrated his knowledge of the ayatollahs' many secrets and skeletons.
Despite Hosseinian's allegations and others involving Kordan's "moral problems," the newly appointed speaker of the mullahs' Parliament, former IRGC general Ali Larijani, rejected several calls for a closed session to discuss Kordan's qualifications. He ordered a speedy vote of confidence for Kordan and two other nominees.
But the story refused to go away. A web site belonging to another conservative block revealed more of Kordan's lies about his academic credentials, which he had extensively used in previous governmental positions for higher salaries and special benefits. Sensing the matter was getting out of hand, the Interior Ministry tried to squash it with an official decree, warning the state-controlled media to steer clear of questions about Kordan's degrees.
Then the ayatollahs' "diploma-gate" really took off. The Interior Ministry released a scanned image of what Kordan claimed was his doctoral degree from Oxford University. Kordan, who reportedly does not speak a word of English, had boasted that after writing a thesis about Islamic education and defending it through a translator, in June 2000, he had been granted an Honorary Doctorate of Law diploma, which was undersigned by three Oxford professors.
Questioned about the veracity of the claim, Oxford University announced that Kordan's degree was forged. One of the professors said he did not recognize the signature above his name. The growing scandal ultimately forced Larijani on August 11, to order an investigation into Kordan's academic background.
So why would Ahmadinejad take such a political risk, less than a year before he must run for reelection? His cabinet, described by many of the regime's insiders as politically the weakest of all previous presidents, already has the most cabinet changes. Ten ministers, all in key ministries, have been dismissed since 2005.
Ahmadinejad nevertheless had to balance the risks against the three nominees' proven loyalty to him and his government's agenda. The ayatollahs' president reportedly delayed naming his three candidates for the ministries of Interior, Economy, and Transportation, until he could ensure their approval and prevent any political embarrassment. Kordan, who had won the confidence of Ahmadinejad in his previous stints as deputy oil minister and as an IRGC commander, is also a long time cohort of Ali Larijani. Now, with Larijani as Parliamentary Speaker, Kordan was viewed as a sure bet.
In his speech at the Parliament, Ahmadinejad praised Kordan's "thirty years of service to the Islamic Revolution in sensitive and important positions." In turn, Larijani spoke highly of Kordan and his years of service at the broadcasting system when run by Larijani.
Even after Larijani's blessing, Ahmadinejad was taking no chances, and took an unprecedented leap in the ayatollahs' political wonderland, explicitly stating that his three choices also had the approval of the mullahs' Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. That statement set off a political powder keg. Keyhan newspaper, the mouthpiece of Khamenei, published a blistering editorial lambasting Ahmadinejad for "cashing in on the Leader" for his own political gain. Khamenei's office, while acknowledging the gist of Ahmadinejad's claim, also issued a statement enjoining any public official from attributing statements to him without his office's approval.
The fiasco exemplifies the endemic corruption of the ayatollahs' regime of cheat and deceit. It also points to the widening fissures at the top of the ruling faction; the revelations about Kordan were spearheaded by a die-hard conservative wing, not a rival or sidelined faction.
The cracks in the ruling structure are spreading under pressure from widespread anti-government protests. This is coupled with the growing political maneuverability of the democratic opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), since its delisting in June by the United Kingdom. The mullahs' growing international isolation is also an important factor, as evident by the rebuke of Tehran's demands in the recent summit of non-aligned countries, and adoption of more sanctions by the European Union last week. On August 12, the U.S. Treasury also imposed sanctions against five more Iranian entities involved in Tehran's nuclear and missile programs.
Nevertheless, the widening cracks in the IRGC backed ruling faction will not allow for another resurrection of the so-called "moderate" faction, as some would like us to believe. The mullahs have already played out that storyline to its unavoidable ending, the preeminence of the military-political IRGC faction. This is an irreversible path. The cracks at the tip of power pyramid foretell the collapse of the whole regime, and that is something Khamenei is hell bent on preventing. He will not waver from his strategic quest for nuclear weapons capability and dominance of Iraq's political landscape.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.