By Sadegh Abbasi*
The 1953 coup toppled the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq and established a dictatorship in Iran. This coup, in which the CIA admitted to having played a role (1), was organized by Britain (2) and the United States (3). However the two states never offered the Iranian nation an apology for their anti-democratic plot (4) which took the lives of 300 citizens. Kermit Roosevelt, the mastermind behind the coup writes in his memo:
“Mossadegh’s nationalization of the billion-dollar oil holdings of Anglo-Iranian Oil Co., a British consortium later renamed British Petroleum, had aroused concern. The possibility of major damage not only to British but also to American, Western European and Japanese interests was real”.
The coup, called Project Ajax by the CIA, took only three weeks. The shah regained his throne, and the United States was able to safeguard its security.(5)
What Mossadeq did to gain Iranian independence was great but it was not enough. Instead of teaming with the political Islam, the Shia clergy and supporters of Ayatollah Kashani, he formed alliances with the communist Tudeh Party who were at odds with Western interests. As long as Mossadeq was close to Ayatollah Kashani, Harry Truman did not feel the urge to act against his government (6).
However, the controversial action taken by Mossadegh to nationalize Iran’s oil meant that Mossadeq is going to be at loggerheads with the British and the Americans as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. (AIOC later named BP), most of whose stock was owned by the British government (7), would lose every right to exploit the Iranian oil, a right that was gained through bribery and illegal means by the British company despite a large popular opposition to the D’Arcy Concession (8), a colonial-style treaty between Britain and Iran.
Mossadeq sided with Communists alienating the clergy
Mossadeq sided with the communist Tudeh Party which gave the British and the Americans a double reason to plot a coup against his government.(9) It is interesting to note that K. Roosevelt interprets siding with communist Tudeh Party alarming and writes in his memo as a conclusion that “Mossadegh was stealing Iran little by little, and the Soviet Union would gain control...(10)”. In the end, Tudeh party also left Mossadeq alone because they found out that he was not committed to the socialist cause and was close to the U.S.(11) Mosaddegh actually trusted the U.S. and thought they would help him in the face of the British.
In this context, it became obvious for the Iranians that the terms “freedom” and “democracy” were merely disguises for US's pursuit of its interests. Donald Wilber, the CIA agent who planned the operation AJAX has written one version of CIA history. In his account he refers clearly to the U.S. administration’s “preference”:
“General Walter Bedell Smith, Undersecretary of State, determined that the US Government could no longer approve of the Mossadeq government and would prefer a successor government in which there would be no National Frontists.”
A coup of 20 million dollars
In Wilber’s account, CIA had allotted $1,000,000 budget for this plot which was put into full use for overthrowing the Iranian democracy by CIA Tehran Station (12) in the U.S. embassy. Recent estimates appraise the number something between 10 to 20 million dollars (13). The embassies were an important asset to carry out a coup. Mossadeq closed down the British embassy over the overwhelming evidence that Britain is planning a coup. Still resolved on undoing the nationalization of Iran’s oil, the British approached the American administration. The embassy close down by Mossadeq adjourned the coup for two years until the British reached an agreement with President Eisenhower over a coup against Mossadeq.
After a comprehensive study on the situation’s main players, Shah and a pro-Nazi called General Zahedi were proven to be good pawns. The choice was made despite the fact that at the time Nazi sympathizers were being prosecuted across the European continent while in Iran U.S. and Britain were trying hard to bring pro-Nazis to power. General Zahedi’s importance in the eyes of the U.S. administration was marked by a $5,000,000 aid to his post-coup government and this attitude was of great concern for the Shah since it made him suspicious of another U.S. coup against his own throne. (14)
M&Ms: Media, Military, Money
The assets that SIS (MI6) (15) disclosed to CIA for carrying the coup consisted of certain agents in the Iranian armed forces who were in favor of the British. This list also included people among Iranian MPs, religious leaders, the press, street gangs, politicians, and other influential figures. In order to make the coup gain a much legal appearance, CIA started to exploit the available means to turn the Iranian public opinion against Mossadeq. In line with the “grey” propaganda, the CIA Art Group started to produce anti-Mossadeq cartoons.(16) Some editors were paid to spread rumors against Mossadeq.(17)
Mossadeq managed to foil the plot at the first stage of the coup and Shah who issued an order to depose Mossadeq fled the country for Rome. On 18th of August Ayatollah Kashani wrote a letter to Mossadeq warning him of symptoms of another coup which was looming and offered him a helping hand despite the differences between the two; but Mossadeq refused his offer of help. In his short and clearly humiliating response to Ayatollah Kashani, Mosaddeq wrote:
“Your letter has been received. I am counting on the nation’s support and trust.” (18)
On 19th of August, the agents who were playing a role in the coup used the Government’s inactivity and confusion to attempt another coup. Mossadeq, at the surprise of his supporters, asked them not to take part in any demonstration or engage in any act of resistance as he feared a communist takeover given a full-fledged presence of the Tudeh Party during this turmoil (19); a fear shared by Shia clergy that made them choose not to support Mossadeq since he initially chose to enjoy a communist base of support (20)- a tactical mistake. A lack of support from Ulema (21) cut Mossadeq from the Iranian masses who were and are largely in favor of the Political Islam which is a key element for the success of any popular movement in Iran.(22) In this background, Mossadeq was overthrown during a royalist coup while he was alienated by both clerics and the communist Tudeh Party.
The rise of a Fascist ruling
19th of August was a blow against democracy and humanity and established one of the darkest times in Iranian history. The members of the coup regime were mostly comprised of fascists and Nazi sympathizers headed by General Zahedi who had a record of being arrested during World War II by the British for making an attempt to form a Nazi government in Iran. Now the same forces who stopped him then, brought him to power and financially supported him: providing him with $100,000 before the coup, $5 million the day after the coup, $28 million a month later, $40 million a year later in 1954 after this regime signed the oil consortium deal. According to this new deal the consortium agreed to share profits on a 50–50 basis with Iran "but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors."(23) The pre-coup falsifications were again in place.
The fascist cabinet of Zahedi was comprised of Bahram Shahrokh, a trainee of Joseph Goebbels (24) and Berlin Radio's Farsi program announcer during the Nazi rule, who later was appointed director of propaganda. And Sharif-Emami, who had also been imprisoned for his pro-Nazi activities in the 1940s became Secretary General of the Oil Industry, President of the Senate, and served twice as Prime Minister.(25)
*Sadegh Abbasi is a Junior M.A. student at Tehran University. As a student in history he has also worked as a contributor to different Iranian news agencies.Sadegh Abbasi is a Junior M.A. student at Tehran University. As a student in history he has also worked as a contributor to different Iranian news agencies.
1. Dehghan, S., & Norton-Taylor, R. (2013). CIA admits role in 1953 Iranian coup. the Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/19/cia-admits-role-1953-iranian-coup
2. William Roger Louis (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B.Tauris. p. 775. From: https://books.google.de/books?id=NQnpQNKeKKAC&pg=PA775
3. Gasiorowski, M., & Byrne, M. (2004). Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran.Nsarchive.gwu.edu. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB126/ from http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB126/
4. Gizzi, J. (2015). No Plans to Apologize To Iran for '53 Coup, White House Tells Newsmax. Newsmax. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://www.newsmax.com/Politics/Iran-apology-obama-coup/2015/05/25/id/646552/
6. Truman and his top advisers always focused on working out an oil agreement between Mosaddeq and British. To the end, they believed that Mosaddeq represented the most effective barrier to a communist takeover in Iran at op. cit. (Gasiorowski & Byrne, 2004)
7. Marsh, Steve D. 2003. Anglo-American Relations and Cold War Oil: Crisis in Iran. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
8. Ghani, Cyrus, 2000. Iran and the Rise of the Reza Shah: From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power. London: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.: P. 55 https://books.google.de/books?id=VGZItY9kL0AC&pg=PA55&lpg=PA55&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false
9. The Executive Secretary. (1952) (p. 1). Washington. Retrieved from http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB126/iran521120.pdf
10. Norouzi, A. (2012). Kermit Roosevelt Explains the Rise and Fall of the Shah of Iran. The Mossadegh Project. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/biography/kermit-roosevelt/iran-how-the-mess-came-about/
11. Sciolino, E. (2000). Mossadegh: Eccentric Nationalist Begets Strange History. Newsmine.org. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://newsmine.org/content.php?ol=coldwar-imperialism/iran53/mossadegh-eccentric-nationalist-begets-strange-history.txt
12. Byrne, M. (2000). The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953. Nsarchive.gwu.edu. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/#documents. The Director, on 4 April 1953, approved a budget of $1,000,000 which could be used by the Tehran Station in any way that would bring about the fall of Mosaddegh. Full authority was given to Ambassador Henderson and the Chief of Station enabling any part or all of the $1,000,000 to be used without further authority, as long as the Ambassador and the station concurred.
13. Rahnema, Ali. 2015. Behind the 1953 Coup in Iran: Thugs, Turncoats, Soldiers, and Spooks. Cambridge: Cambridge Printing House. https://books.google.de/books?id=RsK0BAAAQBAJ&pg=PA269.
15. Britains Secret Intelligence Service
16. Headquarters.opinionware.net (2012). CIA Art Group in Service of the Coup 1951. Retrieved 1 November 2015, from http://headquarters.opinionware.net/cia-art-group-in-service-of-the-coup/?pid=67
17. Burleigh, Michael. 2013. Small Wars, Far Away Places: The Genesis of the Modern World. MacMillan: p. 276. https://books.google.de/books?id=ONUxC2fODmgC&pg=PA279
18. http://iichs.org/index_en.asp?id=2323&img_cat=142&img_type=1 for translation see: Homa Katouzian, Musaddiq and the struggle for power in Iran, pp 213 and 218.
19. Noureddin Kia-Nouri, Khaterat-e Noureddin Kia-Nouri(Memoirs) (Tehran, 1992). p 278.
20. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton (2006), p. 12
21. Islamic scholars
22. Mackay, Sandra, The Iranians, Plume (1997), p. 203, 4
23. Kinzer, Stephen (2003). All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 195-6.
24. Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. One of Adolf Hitler's close associates and most devoted followers, he was known for his public speaking and deep and virulent antisemitism, which led to his supporting the extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.
25. Op. cit. Kinzer (2003), pp. 6, 13. See Evrand Abrahamian, "The 1953 Coup in Iran," in Sciences & Society, 65 (2)(Summer 2001). p. 211. See also Habib Lajevardi, "The Origins of U.S. support for an Autocratic Iran," in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 15 (2) (May 1983).