Whoops. From our You-Can't-Make-This-Stuff-Up File. "Iran clerics query president's religious remarks," from Reuters, May 7:
TEHRAN - Iran's president has alarmed some conservative clerics with remarks suggesting he believed a mystical Shi'ite religious leader backed his government, newspapers reported on Wednesday.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005 with the votes of Iran's devout poor, has in the past courted controversy for his very public devotion to the return of the vanished 12th Imam, or Mahdi, a figure he regularly refers to in his speeches.
While the return of the 12th Imam to herald an era of justice is a core Shi'ite belief, some critics say he has encouraged "superstitious" practices surrounding the tenet.
"If the president means that the 12th Imam is supporting the government, we should say that it is wrong," conservative cleric Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, who is also a member of parliament, was quoted by the daily Etemad-e Melli as saying.
Mesbahi-Moghaddam was referring to a speech Ahmadinejad made a month ago at a Shi'ite shrine in Mashhad, eastern Iran, and broadcast on state TV on Monday. The BBC monitored the address.
The president's Mashhad speech began with an appeal for the 12th Imam's speedy return and was peppered with references to him. But the president denied what he described as accusations that say he has claimed a particular relationship with the Imam.
"Surely the 12th Imam is not supporting the current 20 percent inflation in Iran," the cleric said, referring to a popular complaint -- Ahmadinejad's failure to curb price rises.
According to Shi'ite Muslim teaching, Abul-Qassem Mohammad, the 12th leader whom Shi'ites consider descended from the prophet Mohammed, disappeared in the year 941 but will return at the end of time to lead an era of Islamic justice.
"Ahmadinejad should think in a more worldly way. He should manage the country. People are not expecting (religious) advice from the president," another conservative cleric, Ali Asgari, from Mashhad, was quoted by Kargozaran daily as saying.
Ahmadinejad, Iran's first non-clerical president in more than a quarter of a century, has had other run-ins with the religious establishment. Several top clerics scolded him last month for blaming Iran's economic problems on "mafias".
One analyst said some in the clerical establishment were wary of Ahmadinejad who represents a new breed of devout politicians with less ties to the Islamic Republic's traditional clerical class, thus potentially undermining their authority.
Nevertheless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters under Iran's system of clerical rule, has lavished praise on Ahmadinejad.
In his Mashhad speech, Ahmadinejad said Iran had made nuclear progress with the 12th Imam's help.
"Iran has become nuclear before their eyes, despite their will... We behold the hands of Imam," said the president, who denies Western charges that Tehran wants to make atomic bombs.
You can't hug your Mahdi with nuclear arms.