How CIA facilitated Iran’s coup d’état | Declassified | Untold History #12

If it came to the point on focus to which one thing was the root of 20th & 21st Century mayhem, it’d probably be the battle for the control of oil. Wherever in the world exists oil, that country needs “freedom” and the best freedom givers i.e. US and Britain will be there to help. In 1908, after the discovery of oil in Persia, the British came in and founded a company called APOC. The British government later on purchased more than half of the company, effectively nationalising it. APOC was the first company to extract oil from Persia. In the aftermath of World War I there was widespread political dissatisfaction with the royalty terms of the British petroleum concession, under the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), whereby Persia received 16% of “net profits”. In 1921, after years of severe mismanagement under the Qajar Dynasty, a coup d’état (allegedly backed by the British) brought a general, Reza Khan, into the government – this is not the coup I’m talking about. Reza Shah began a rapid and successful “modernization” program in Persia, which up until that point had been considered to be among the most impoverished countries in the world. Nevertheless, Reza Shah was also a very harsh ruler who did not tolerate dissent. By the 1930s, he had suppressed all opposition, and had sidelined the democratic aspects of the constitution. Opponents were jailed and in some cases even executed. In 1935, the Shah changed the name of the country from Persia to Iran, which is meh, Persia sounds better, I guess Shah had bad taste, no offence to Iranians.

In 1941, after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the British and Commonwealth of Nations forces and the Red Army invaded Iran. Reza Shah had declared neutrality in World War II, and tried to balance between the two major powers, Britain and Nazi Germany. The primary reason for the invasion was to secure Iran’s oil fields and the Trans-Iranian Railway in order to deliver supplies to the USSR. Reza Shah was arrested, deposed, and exiled by the British, and some other prominent officials were jailed as well – “even the Gods won’t trust the British in the dark”. Reza Shah’s 22-year-old son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became the Shah of Iran. The new Shah, unlike his father, was initially a mild leader and at times indecisive. During the 1940s he did not for most part take an independent role in the government, and much of Reza Shah’s authoritarian policies were rolled back. Iranian democracy effectively was restored during this period as a result. The US started to re-appraise its interests, Washington was “publicly in solidarity and privately at odds” with Britain, its World War II ally. Britain’s empire was steadily weakening, and with an eye on international crises, US saw an opportunity, “In Saudi Arabia, to Britain’s extreme disapproval, Washington endorsed the arrangement between ARAMCO and Saudi Arabia in the 50/50 accord that had reverberations throughout the region.”

Iran’s oil had been discovered and later controlled by the British-owned AIOC. Popular discontent with the AIOC began in the late 1940s: a large segment of Iran’s public and a number of politicians saw the company as exploitative and a central tool of continued British imperialism in Iran. After an assassination attempt on the Shah of Iran, it was to his surprise that he gained a lot of public sympathy, and so started to take an increasingly active role in politics. He quickly organised the Iran Constituent Assembly to amend the constitution to increase his powers. The Shah had the right to appoint half the senators and he chose men sympathetic to his aims. Mosaddegh thought this increase in the Shah’s political power was not democratic; he believed that the Shah should “reign, but not rule” in a manner similar to Europe’s constitutional monarchies. Led by Mosaddegh, political parties and opponents of the Shah’s policies banded together to form a coalition known as the National Front. Oil nationalisation was a major policy goal for the party. The National Front had won majority seats for the popularly elected Majlis (Iran’s parliament) and Mosaddegh became the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Mosaddegh

Mosaddeq came to prominence in Iran in 1951 when he was appointed premier. A fierce nationalist, Mosaddeq immediately began attacks on British oil companies operating in his country, calling for expropriation and nationalization of the oil fields. His actions brought him into conflict with the pro-Western elites of Iran and the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. Indeed, the Shah dismissed Mossadeq in mid-1952, but massive public riots condemning the action forced the Shah to reinstate Mossadeq a short time later. U.S. officials watched events in Iran with growing suspicion. British intelligence sources, working with the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to the conclusion that Mossadeq had communist leanings and would move Iran into the Soviet orbit if allowed to stay in power. Working with Shah, the CIA and British intelligence began to engineer a plot to overthrow Mossadeq. The Iranian premier, however, got wind of the plan and called his supporters to take to the streets in protest. At this point, the Shah left the country for “medical reasons.” While British intelligence backed away from the debacle, the CIA continued its covert operations in Iran.

Although CIA has always issued “blanket denials”, but now it admits that it hired Iranians in the 1950′s to pose as Communists and stage bombing of one cleric’s home in Iran in order to turn the country against its democratically-elected prime minister. However, Shah’s “cowardice” nearly killed the C.I.A. operation. Fearful of risking his throne, the Shah repeatedly refused to sign C.I.A.-written royal decrees to change the government. The agency arranged for the shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlevi, and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the father of the Desert Storm commander, to act as intermediaries to try to keep him from wilting under pressure. He still fled the country just before the coup succeeded.

Shah (right) and the twin sister (left)
Shah later in the years.
Protests erupted after the bombings

All of this is for the control of oil, if that’s not clear yet. According to Stephen Kinzer, author of the book All the Shah’s Men, Roosevelt quickly seized control of the Iranian press by buying them off with bribes and circulating anti-Mossadegh propaganda. He recruited allies among the Islamic clergy, and he convinced the Shah that Mossadegh was a threat. The last step entailed a dramatic attempt to apprehend Mossadegh at his house in the middle of the night. But the coup failed. Mossadegh learned of it and fought back. The next morning, he announced victory over the radio. Mossadegh thought he was in the clear, but Roosevelt hadn’t given up.

The US and the UK saw Iranian oil as key to its post-war economic rebuilding. The Cold War was also a factor in the calculations. “[I]t was estimated that Iran was in real danger of falling behind the Iron Curtain; if that happened it would mean a victory for the Soviets in the Cold War and a major setback for the West in the Middle East,” says coup planner Donald Wilber in one document written within months of the overthrow. “No remedial action other than the covert action plan set forth below could be found to improve the existing state of affairs.” The documents show how the CIA prepared for the coup by placing anti-Mossadeq stories in both the Iranian and US media.

Working with pro-Shah forces and, most importantly, the Iranian military, the CIA cajoled, threatened, and bribed its way into influence and helped to organize another coup attempt against Mossadeq. On August 19, 1953, the military, backed by street protests organized and financed by the CIA, overthrew Mossadeq. The Shah quickly returned to take power and, as thanks for the American help, signed over 40 percent of Iran’s oil fields to U.S. companies – victory is sweet. Mossadeq was arrested, served three years in prison, and died under house arrest in 1967. The Shah became one of America’s most trusted Cold War allies, and U.S. economic and military aid poured into Iran during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. This is how to get “Iran before and after democracy/freedom” photos.



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