Simon Tisdall

It ignores the forces that brought him to power and his political skills.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD is the latest in a long line of bogeymen in the United States. But by casting Iran's President in the role of maverick evildoer, the Bush administration ignores the complex forces that brought him to power last year and his previously unsuspected political skills, both supporters and critics say. As domestic opponents have already discovered, underestimating Mr Ahmadinejad is tempting and foolish.

"He is a good man. He tries to do his best," said Saeideh, a student in Shiraz. "My family supported [Mohammad] Khatami [the former reformist President]. But it is good the way Ahmadinejad stands up to the Americans."

Anti-government intellectuals and secularists also attribute Mr. Ahmadinejad's ascendancy to the backing of clerical hardliners, as well as the Revolutionary Guards and basij militia. They said he owed his job to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who was primarily concerned with establishing Iran's leadership in the Muslim world over the rival claims of Arab states such as Egypt. Yet Mr. Ahmadinejad is far from being a puppet of Iran's mullahs or clerics. His advancement came in part because, ironically, he was able to assume Mr. Khatami's mantle as the "anti-status quo candidate," a source said.

His fall, if and when it comes, is unlikely to be the result of political insurrection, outside intervention, or his demonisation as America's new bogeyman. In Iran, as elsewhere, it is the economy, stupid.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006