Iran's parliament says Ahmadinejad's oil ministry takeover was illegal

Iran's parliament voted on Wednesday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's takeover of the country's oil ministry was illegal, escalating a power struggle between the president and the hard-line establishment that appears to have turned against him, AP reported.

"This illegal and hasty action will undermine the Islamic Republic of Iran's interests on the international level," the conservative-dominated parliament said in its report, according to the Guardian. "Mr. Ahmadinejad as oil minister has issued some orders and will continue to issue orders which are obvious examples of illegal interference with governmental financial resources."

The 165-1 vote was triggered after the president merged several ministries, fired the oil minister and appointed himself caretaker of the lucrative ministry in May, the Guardian said. That move also technically put Ahmadinejad at the head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, because Iran holds the rotating presidency this year, according to AP.

The case has been referred to the judiciary.

It wasn't clear whether the development on Wednesday signaled a real threat that Ahmadinejad could be impeached, the Guardian said. It was also unclear whether the vote in the 290-member parliament would actually be followed by charges or a lawsuit against Ahmadinejad.

But the vote was the most recent development in the escalating tension between the president and his onetime mentor, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Guardian reported. The confrontations appear to be part of a power struggle leading up to parliamentary elections next year and the vote for Ahmadinejad's successor in mid-2013, according to AP.

Khamenei stood firmly by Ahmadinejad during the disputed election in 2009 that led to the country's most significant unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to NPR. But now Khamenei and much of the conservative Iranian establishment – including leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – have unleashed a political firestorm against Ahmadinejad, the Diplomat said.

It erupted into public view on April 17, when the president fired the Iranian intelligence minister. One hour later, Khamenei reinstated him. Since then, things have gotten progressively more heated. According to the Diplomat:

Khamenei’s allies have accused Ahmadinejad of engaging in sorcery, witchcraft, and mystical beliefs, and they’ve accused the president of seeking to overthrow the doctrine of "rule of the jurisprudent" (velayat-e faqih), the core doctrine proclaimed by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the regime, that the leader of the Islamic Republic must be an elite member of the clergy.

The move to take control of the oil ministry alarmed Ahmadinejad's rivals in the country's conservative ruling elite, in large part because it involved the hugely important energy sector – the source of 80% of Iranian state revenue – and because Ahmadinejad is famous for his populist economic policies, the Guardian said.

Ahmadinejad has pointed out that he has the power to remove ministers and put caretakers in place for up to three months before having to consult parliament and says that there should have been no surprise about the reshuffle, the Guardian reported. His protestations did not appear to soothe his opponents' fears. On May 20, almost two weeks before the parliament's vote Wednesday, the Guardian Council -- a powerful, clerical-run body that vets legislation and candidates for office -- declared that Ahmadinejad could not serve as caretaker head of the oil ministry and would have to name someone else, according to Foreign Policy.