(COLD WAR: 1953-60 – continued)
Mohammad Mosaddegh had a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters in International Relations from the University of Paris, and he had a Doctorate in Law from the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Since the early 1920s, he had risen in Iranian politics as a heroic man of principles. In 1944, at the age of 52, while a member of parliament, he joined with nineteen others in founding the National Front of Iran, which aimed at establishing democracy and ending foreign influence – mainly British – in Iran's politics. On April 28, 1951, parliament named him prime minister, and Iran's young constitutional monarch, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, recognized Mosaddegh's popularity and approved his premiership.
Since early in the 20th century, British Petroleum had enjoyed a monopoly on the production and sale of Iranian oil. Prime Minister Mosaddegh wanted to nationalize British Petroleum in Iran, with compensation for the British from a newly acquired rule over oil fields in Iran. He noted that Britain at the time was nationalizing some of its industry and that Iran was broke. He had requested financial assistance from the United States but without success.
Mohammad Mosaddegh, an overthrown democrat.
The British rejected Iran's compensation plan. "Persian oil," said Britain's foreign secretary, Herbert Morrison, "is of vital importance to our economy." note20
Stephen Kinzer writes that one British diplomat scoffed at the idea of Mosaddegh's nationalization and said, "We English have had hundred of years of experience on how to treat the natives," and he added that "Socialism is all right back home, but out here you have to be the master." note21
Mosaddegh closed the British embassy and forced British agents out of the country. The British had no one left in Iran to organize a coup against Mosaddegh, so the British turned to the US for help. President Truman, in the words of Stephen Kinzer, had "contempt for old-style imperialists ... Besides, the CIA had never overthrown a government, and Truman did not wish to set the precedent." note22
On 20 January 1953, Truman left office and Dwight Eisenhower became president, and Eisenhower followed the urging of his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen Dulles, head of the CIA. The British had convinced these two that Mosaddegh was close to the communists.
Actually, Mosaddegh disliked communist doctrine and had excluded communists from his government. But as a believer in democracy he was allowing Iran's Communist Party, the Tudeh, to function politically. And, as one would expect of them, the Tudeh favored Mosaddegh's desire to nationalize their country's oil.
Mossadegh's popularity had been in decline. He had been losing support among common working people, who had been his strongest supporters. He was being blamed for the country's economic crisis and an increase in street clashes between rival political groups. Mosaddegh had been relying on emergency powers. He protected himself politically by forming an alliance with the Tudeh party, contributing to fears of communism, and there were accusations that Mosaddegh was becoming a dictator.
In the US, the overthrow of Mosaddegh was planned, with Secretary of State Dulles seeing an overthrow of Mosaddegh as morally correct and as a "rollback" of communism. His brother Allen Dulles was no doubt in on the plot. The operation was code-named Operation Ajax. The plan was to have the king, Mohammad Reza, who was friendly toward the United States, dismiss Mosaddegh and replace him with General Fazlollah Zahedi – whom the British preferred.
A CIA agent, Kermit Roosevelt (a grandson of Theodore ), the story goes, was picked up in a car at midnight and driven to the palace. In the car on palace property the king, or Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was offered one million dollars worth of Iranian currency. This was on August 1, 1953. The CIA splashed money around elsewhere to inspired monarchist and crucial people in Iran's military – people with guns – and people who could put mobs in the streets to create an appearance of disorder and a pending communist takeover. On August 16, armed with an order from Shah Pahlavi, an army led by General Zahedi attacked. This first coup attempt failed, and the Shah fled the country in haste, to Iraq and then to Rome. The nation's largest daily newspaper, the Ettelaat, although pro-monarchy, was among those who did not like the coup attempt. But the pro-monarchy military was not giving up.
A second coup was attempted on August 19. People posing as communist Tudeh party members faked an attempt at revolution, and gullible people joined them, including real Tudeh members. People were in the streets attacking symbols of capitalism, looting private businesses and destroying shops. As planned, the pro-monarchy military, led by General Zahedi went to the rescue. Communism was not a Muslim thing, and the nation was largely Muslim. Crowds of citizens armed with improvised weapons beat back the revolutionaries. Under General Zahedi's authority, the army left its barracks and with citizenry on its side it drove against the Tudeh party and government buildings. A tank fired a round into Mosaddegh's house. Mosaddegh fled and later surrendered to military custody. By the end of the day, August 19, Zahedi and the army were in control of the government.
About 200 people were killed in the coup. Mosaddegh was tried by a military tribunal for high treason. Shah Pahlavi returned to Iran from Italy, and he spared Mosaddegh's life. Mosaddegh was sentenced to three years in solitary confinement at a military jail and was exiled to his village, where he was to remain under house arrest on his estate until his death in 1967.
After his return, Shah Pahlavi ruled as an absolute monarch. The US would supply arms to the Shah's regime and train his police force, the SAVAK. The Eisenhower administration had gained an ally in the Middle East, and Secretary of State Dulles believed he had rolled back communism. In Iran and the Middle East, the overthrow of Mosaddegh was to contribute to hostility toward the US and Britain. A foreign policy failure was viewed as evident in 1979 with Iran's revolution. Intervention had been chosen over self-determination. The phrase "neo-colonialism" would increase in use. But some in the US opted for what they saw as strength. To them, the ability of the US to control Iran was more important than the opinions of those inclined to be critics or enemies, especially with the world threatened as they saw it by the spread of communism.
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.