TEHRAN, Iran – The spiritual mentor of Iran's president has harshly criticized him for his role in an internal power struggle that has split the country's hard-liners, indicating that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's own support base is badly fraying.
The cleric is the latest high-profile figure to censure Ahmadinejad, who set off the spiraling political confrontation last month by firing the intelligence minister without consulting the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who quickly reinstated him in a public slap to the president.
The president's mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, said Ahmadinejad is increasingly turning friends into enemies and demonstrating what he called "illogical and cheap" behavior. He made the comments in an interview published Saturday in the hard-line weekly Shoma.
Ahmadinejad and his backers are struggling to regroup after the stinging rebuke by Khamenei over the dismissal of the intelligence minister.
The showdown was interpreted as further evidence of a growing rift between Ahmadinejad and the ruling theocracy and a sign that Khamenei is seeking to tighten his grip on political affairs before parliamentary elections next year and a presidential election in 2013 that will choose Ahmadinejad's successor.
Sensing his vulnerability, rivals in parliament are raising more challenges to Ahmadinejad, including calls to bring him before the chamber for questioning over his policies and alleged constitutional violations.
But the devastating comments by Yazdi, who strongly supported Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009, shows the president's support base is rapidly unraveling after he challenged Khamenei.
"That a human being would behave in a way that angers his closest friends and allies and turns them into opponents is not logical for any politician," Yazdi was quoted as saying in the interview.
The political showdown has roots in Ahmadinejad's support for a close confidant who is opposed by other hard-liners, and Yazdi said the president has allowed himself to be "charmed" by him.
"I told some of my close friends at one time that I believe with more than 90 percent (certainty) that he (Ahmadinejad) has been charmed. This situation is not natural at all. No logical person does such works unless he has lost senses," Yazdi said, according to the paper.
Some have speculated that Ahmadinejad is trying to boost a possible presidential run by the close friend and chief aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei.
Hard-liners consider Mashaei the head of a "deviant current" that seeks to undermine the ruling system and shape politics after Ahmadinejad's term expires in two years.
They despise him for his views that elevate the values of pre-Islamic Persia and his statements suggesting Iran can oppose Israel's government but can be friendly with the Israeli people.
A prominent hard-liner last month called Mashaei "Iran's real president," saying Ahmadinejad is totally obedient to him. Yazdi echoed the comments.
"We saw that this questionable person (Mashaei) has conquered this gentleman (Ahmadinejad) and is in his fist," Yazdi was quoted as saying.