Iran is facing political paralysis as its newly elected president purges government institutions, bringing accusations that he is undertaking a coup d'état.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents began last month but is more sweeping than previously understood and has reached almost every branch of government, the Guardian has learned. Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several government departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatisation organisations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were dismissed in what an Iranian source described as "a coup d'état".
An informed Iranian source with first-hand knowledge of all the main political and clerical figures in the country said: "Ahmadinejad is defying everybody. He does whatever he wants and considers it to be right. This is not how things are done in Iran."
The upheaval at the highest government levels in Tehran follows the dismissal of four senior ambassadors and has raised questions about Iran's ability to conclude negotiations on its nuclear programme which are due to come to a head at a UN meeting in Vienna next week.
In a sign of divisions at the top of the clerical establishment, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has until now supported Mr Ahmadinejad, said "irregularities" in the government's behaviour would not be tolerated.
Iranian sources said opinion in the conservative-controlled majlis [parliament], which initially welcomed the president's election, was becoming uneasy.
"There is a very tense situation. Ahmadinejad has made a very bad start and needs to get attuned to political realities," the Iranian source said, suggesting that Mr Ahmadinejad could face impeachment proceedings in the majlis if he continued to pack the government with his appointees.