Five of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Weirdest Conspiracy Theories

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) flashes the sign for victory at the Interior Ministry's election headquarters as candidates begin to sign up for the upcoming presidential elections in Tehran on April 12, 2017. Ahmadinejad had previously said he would not stand after being advised not to by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying he would instead support his former deputy Hamid Baghaie who also registered on Wednesday. Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty

When former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put his name forward as a candidate in the country’s May 19 presidential election, it surprised observers both inside and outside the Islamic Republic. Not least because Iran’s highest religious figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had discouraged Ahmadinejad from running.

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s current leader and the reformist behind a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement that lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s economy in return for reining in its nuclear program, is vying for a second term and it emerged this week that he could face opposition from hardline figure Ebrahim Raisi, an ally of Khamenei.

Read more: Iran's Supreme Leader discourages Ahmadinejad from running for re-election

Ahmadinejad’s entrance into the election will increase fears on the religious right that its vote will be split since Iran’s conservative factions have not yet rallied around one candidate against Rouhani. As many as eight candidates could stand, unless the country’s Guardian Council, a 12-member executive body that is the most powerful in Iran, moves to disqualify some from running.

Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that he only registered his candidacy “to support [Hamid] Baghaei,” one of his former deputies who has also thrown his name into the ring.

But the 48-year-old former leader is a notorious populist who can rally Iranians around nationalist slogans. His two terms as president from 2005 to 2013 were peppered with outlandish statements and anti-Western conspiracy theories.

As he rides back into the political fire in Tehran, threatening to shape the election’s outcome, here are five of the former president’s wildest moments.

That Time He Thought the West Was Stealing Iran’s Rain

If you can’t stop their nuclear weapons program, stop their rain—at least that was the thinking behind Ahmadinejad’s accusation against the West in a 2012 speech.

“Today our country is moving towards drought, which is partly unintentional due to industry and partly intentional, as a result of the enemy destroying the clouds moving towards our country and this is a war that Iran is going to overcome,” he said.

Water can be scarce in Iran due to the mostly dry climate, but that was not the reason, in Ahmadinejad’s mind, for an impending water crisis. Rather, it was the West sabotaging its clouds.  

“I feel that the world arrogance and colonization, by using their technologies, are affecting the environmental situation in Iran,” he said.

That Time He Attacked Paul The Octopus

In 2010, he launched a stinging attack on Paul the Octopus, the sea creature that successfully predicted the outcome of many World Cup games. Forget Israel and Saudi Arabia, for a fleeting moment it was the eight-armed psychic that was the focus of Ahmadinejad’s ire as a symbol of everything evil about the Western world.

“Those who believe in this type of thing cannot be the leaders of the global nations that aspire, like Iran, to human perfection, basing themselves in the love of all sacred values,” he said. He remarked that the octopus was guilty of spreading “Western propaganda and superstition.”

That Time He Said Iran Has No Homosexuals

Addressing a crowd at Columbia University in 2007, Ahmadinejad drew laughter from his American audience with this claim—but he was deadly serious when asked about the execution of two gay men in Iran.

“In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country,” he said. “In Iran we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it.”

Despite denying their existence, Iran has a punishment for people charged with homosexuality: death.

That Time He Said Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush Were Friends

Aside from his claim that 9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by the U.S. government, Ahmadinejad went further in 2010 when he said that al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was residing in Washington D.C as a colleague of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

“I heard that Osama Bin Laden is in Washington DC...Yes, I did. He's there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr Bush. They were colleagues in fact in the old days. You know that,” he told ABC News in a televised interview.

“They were in the oil business together. They worked together. Mr. Bin Laden never cooperated with Iran but he cooperated with Mr. Bush.”

That Time He Said the West Engineered HIV

In 2012, he claimed the West was to blame for starting the HIV virus in Africa.

“It is obvious that the African countries must be plundered of their wealth and resources,” he said. “The major powers and despots are behind the development of these diseases so they could then sell their drugs and medical equipment to the poor countries.”

If Mahmoud rises to the presidency once again in next month’s election, we’re likely to see more controversy and conspiracies from him—statements that will pit the Iranian enigma against America’s very own populist leader: Donald J. Trump.

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