TEHRAN - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will on Wednesday nominate a relative novice as oil minister and seek to bring women into the cabinet for the first time -- but he may face a hard fight to win approval from the conservative parliament.
The outcome will be a further signal as to how secure Ahmadinejad's grip is on power after political setbacks following his contested re-election in June that led to street protests and political turmoil.
A presidential adviser said Ahmadinejad would name current Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as new oil minister in the Islamic republic, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter.
Iraj Nadimi, who advises on parliamentary affairs, said the president would propose to the assembly that Manouchehr Mottaki stays on as foreign minister, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Mirkazemi, an industrial engineer who has little known experience of the oil sector, would be a surprise choice for one of the cabinet's most high-profile positions.
He was not on a shortlist of candidates carried by IRNA two weeks ago, but is seen as an Ahmadinejad ally.
Parliament must approve the proposed cabinet, which according to IRNA's incomplete list includes three women -- at the health, social welfare and education ministries.
It would be the first time that women holds a ministerial position in the Islamic Republic.
Ahmadinejad has until later on Wednesday to officially present a cabinet to parliament for approval but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from moderate foes who see his government as illegitimate.
MPs are due to start debating and voting on the proposed cabinet line-up later this month.
If the proposed ministers do not have the necessary experience and knowledge ... and are not able to carry out their duty, parliament will act tough with them, conservative lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told ISNA news agency.
Mirkazemi would replace Gholamhossein Nozari as oil minister, one of the cabinet's most important positions.
Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who was re-elected for a second four-year term in the disputed June 12 vote, failed to get his first three choices for oil minister into the post in 2005 because of parliamentary opposition.
And some of his supporters have abandoned him since the disputed vote which led to the most serious disturbances since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Some powerful establishment figures, including two former presidents, have criticized his government's handling of the vote though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged parliament to rally round the president and approve his new cabinet.
The website of the Hamshahri newspaper said Mirkazemi, who has previously been an adviser at the Defense Ministry, had managed petrochemical projects in the past but gave no details. He was born in Tehran in 1960.
As far as I know, he has no experience of the oil industry, said one sector expert in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Oil exports account for most of Iran's state revenue. The next minister faces the challenge of boosting oil and gas output under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, imposed because of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is aimed at peaceful power generation and has ruled out suspending or freezing its activities.
The move to nominate female ministers appeared to be an attempt by the conservative president to shore up his support among women.
But one women right's campaigner said the proposed social and health ministers -- Fatemeh Ajorlou and Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi -- were conservatives who were unlikely to promote female rights.
Ahmadinejad's moderate opponents campaigned ahead of the June election on the need to enhance women's position in Iran. Rights activists say Iranian women face institutionalized discrimination, for example in divorce and child custody.
Among other ministerial nominees, IRNA said current Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar would be proposed as interior minister. It said the defense ministry job was one of three posts still to be finalized.
Heydar Moslehi, a former presidential adviser on clerical affairs, would become intelligence minister after his predecessor was sacked and Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini would retain the post, according to IRNA's list.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Fredrik Dahl; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Richard Balmforth)