Powerful ally behind the scenes to Iran’s Supreme Leader dies in Saudi Arabia

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Khoshvaght and Khamenei

The hard-line Ayatollah Azizollah Khoshvaght died in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday [Feb. 20] after a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Khoshvaght was not only a vociferous critic of Iran’s Reformists and Green Movement, dubbing the latter’s leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Hojjat al-Islam Mehdi Karroubi, “apostates,” but was also an important ally behind the scenes and a relative by marriage to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khoshvaght’s daughter was married to one of Khamenei’s sons, Seyed Mostafa Hosseini Khamenei.

Khoshvaght is also reputed to have been among a small circle of clergymen, close to the security forces, alleged to be responsible for issuing fatwas or religious rulings legitimating the execution of Iranian dissidents and intellectuals in 2000.

Political analyst Hossein Bastani has written an insightful essay published by BBC Persian about Khoshvaght, who has resided in relative obscurity compared to other much more well-known hard-line ayatollahs such as Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi or Guardian Council chief, Ahmad Jannati.

The wife of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the assassinated nuclear scientist, recently related a  story in which she speaks of one of her husband’s meetings with Ayatollah Khoshvaght, who had apparently studied ethics with the aged ayatollah. When Ahmadi Roshan asked him, “How close is the reappearance of the 12th Imam?” she says Khoshvaght replied, “It depends on what you’re doing in Nantaz.” As Bastani notes, while the anecdote may not have any reflection on Iran’s actual nuclear program, it certainly indicates Khoshvaght’s views of it, and his apocalyptic worldview.

Khoshvaght is also said to have warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the threat of earthquakes because of “poor veiling” in Iran’s capital. Khoshvaght, according to Conservative sources, previously claimed that a drought in 1997 was punishment for the election of Reformist-inclined President Mohammad Khatami.

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