New Iran cabinet to be unveiled

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose disputed re-election plunged the nation into its worst crisis since the Islamic revolution, is to unveil his cabinet on Wednesday facing a dogged opposition and challenges from within his own hardline support base.

He already announced six names on Sunday and said he planned to have at least three women in his 21-member government, the first to serve in the 30-year existence of the Islamic republic.

But some of his proposed appointments have already run into objections from MPs, who have complained that he needs to consult them more and ensure his ministers have the right experience and credentials.

"From the six people named, we can assume the cabinet will not have the calibre required for an efficient government and this is not a good sign," influential conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

"In this list there are people who have never recorded a day of executive work," he charged.

Ahmadinejad has already been shaken by the massive opposition protests to his June re-election and a dispute with some hardliners over his political choices, which has exposed rifts among the ruling elite.

His new four-year term is also expected to see Iran remain at odds with the West, particularly over Tehran's nuclear drive and its post-election crackdown.

The opposition was galvanised on Tuesday with reformist former president Mohammad Khatami joining the leadership of a new protest movement set up to challenge the results of an election they say was marred by widespread fraud.

Defeated candidate Mehdi Karroubi will also serve on the leadership council of the movement set up by Mir Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main challenger, the ILNA news agency reported, quoting a Mousavi aide.

Ahmadinejad on Sunday said the main criteria for his new team were "morality and commitment, efficiency as well as convergence and spirit of cooperation." He has pledged that his new government will work to improve the economy, promote social justice and crack down on corruption.

Among the top jobs, Ahmadinejad said he will name Heydar Moslehi, a former representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the volunteer Basij militia, as intelligence minister.

Manouchehr Mottaki is expected to stay at the foreign ministry, the Mehr news agency reported, quoting "unnamed informed sources." Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli, a former Revolutionary Guard commander, will move to the defence ministry in a swap with Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, it said.

The line-up will be put to a parliamentary confidence vote on August 30, but it may not be smooth sailing.

Among the women, his choice of Fatemeh Ajorlou for welfare and social security is likely to stir controversy because of her alleged support for Abbas Palizdar, who was jailed for accusing several senior clerics, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and their children of corruption.

Ahmadinejad has also named Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi for the health ministry and pledged to pick at least one more woman.

His choice of Moslehi for the intelligence post also raised concern.

"According to the law, the candidate for the post of the intelligence minister has to be a mojtahed (sufficiently qualified in Islamic theology), but the president's choice lacks it," said Hassan Sobhaninia, deputy head of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee.

During his first tenure, Ahmadinejad also came under fire for frequently reshuffling the cabinet, sacking 10 ministers and two central bank chiefs and retaining inexperienced ministers.