TEHRAN, Nov 15, 2007 (AFP) β€” Iran’s moderates are intensifying criticism of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, landing their first blows in a bitter political fight ahead of elections next year.

The moderate heavyweights Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have been unusually explicit in their criticism of Ahmadinejad’s economic policies and his analysis of the threat posed by the United States.

Ahmadinejad has shot back using language colourful even by his standards, warning he would expose “traitors” in the nuclear standoff and accusing critics of “being less intelligent than a goat”.

The sharp rhetoric is the upshot of concerns over the mounting international crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme and a sign of the proximity of legislative elections on March 14.

There is exasperation among moderates over Ahmadinejad’s brushing-off of UN sanctions action as just “pieces of paper” and his refusal to even countenance the possibility of a US military attack.

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