Our nation commemorates several anniversaries at the end of August. Yesterday was Women’s Equality Day because of women’s suffrage become federal law in 1920, and tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, featuring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Less noticed, however, was a tragic anniversary last week on August 19, 60 years after the United States, collaborated with Britain to overthrow Iran’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and thus keep Western companies’ control of the country’s rich oil fields.
Although the U.S. had no oil companies in Iran in 1953, the CIA joined the coup when Prime Minister Winston Churchill called in the debt for helping the U.S. during the Korean War. Therefore the U.S. government manipulated Western media into reporting Mossadegh as intemperate, unstable, and otherwise unreliable.
Mossadegh had clashed with the Shah Reza Pahlavi about the extent of the monarchy’s power. Once Mossadegh was arrested under a flimsy pretext, he was sentenced to prison and died in 1967 under house arrest. The shah, who fled to Rome during the coup, returned to a 26-year dictatorship complete with imprisonment, torture, and slaughter of dissidents. He also invited BP—famous for the recent Gulf oil disaster–along with American, Dutch and French companies to enjoy the decades-long Iranian oil boom. Because the U.S. had done most of the work for the coup, they got a big chunk of BP. The U.S. also supplied Iran with military hardware and trained the new regime’s brutal secret police.
The coup of 1953 led to the American hostages in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the revolution of 1979 and the ensuing formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran ruled by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The overthrow of an elected, secular-minded nationalist in Iran led to its extremism in that and neighboring countries.Iran has never forgiven the U.S. anti-democratic self-interest actions six decades ago.
The facts have now been revealed in a newly declassified CIA document:
“Mosadeq, [sic] was neither a madman nor an emotional bundle of senility as he was so often pictured in the foreign press; however, he had become so committed to the ideals of nationalism that he did things that could not have conceivably helped his people even in the best and most altruistic of worlds. In refusing to bargain—except on his own uncompromising terms—with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he was in fact defying the professional politicians of the British government. These leaders believed, with good reason, that cheap oil for Britain and high profits for the company were vital to their national interests.”
If Mossadegh were flawed, it was because he was incorruptible and implacably committed to reforms, everything from pest control to unemployment compensation, from agricultural reform to housing, from women’s rights to religious freedom. His education in France and Switzerland and his belief in secular democracy put him at odds with those in the government who wanted religious control. Truman blamed the “blockheaded” British as much as Mossadeq for any tension in Iran, but Dwight Eisenhower took over the presidency in 1953.
Under the machinations of the new Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Alan Dulles, head of the CIA, Kermit Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson and CIA operative, met secretly with the shah and with General Fazlollah Zahedi to set Operation Ajax into motion. Their design was to replace the ethical Mossadegh with the general, a grain profiteer who was imprisoned by the British for working with Nazi agents to organize a tribal revolt at the same time as a German attack in Iran.
According to the CIA report, the “complete secrecy about the operation” with some leaked information, made it “relatively easy for journalists to reconstruct the coup in varied but generally inaccurate accounts.” Malcolm Byrne, National Security Archive research director, wrote that the report is the first time the CIA admits to “using propaganda to undermine Mossadegh politically, inducing the shah to cooperate, bribing members of parliament, organizing the security forces, and ginning up public demonstrations.”
Iranian newspaper editors were paid to spread lies that Mossadegh was pro-communist and out to destroy the armed forces. Claiming that they were ordered by Mossadegh, CIA-funded street thugs attacked religious leaders. General Zahedi bribed fellow officers to gain the needed military support against any resistance. Thousands of people were paid to participate in anti-government rallies. Members of parliament were bribed to—when the word was given—push a vote to dismiss the prime minister in order to “rescue” Iran from chaos. A firm believer in democracy, Mossadegh kept the police from taking action against the protesters and did not censor the newspapers.
In a 1979 interview, Roosevelt talked about the horrible example that the coup in Iran had established. Dulles was so caught up in the Iranian events that he wanted to duplicate them in the Congo, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Egypt, where he wanted to overthrow President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Roosevelt said he resigned from the CIA because of Dulles’ plans. The Iranian venture did become the prototype for Vietnam, Guatemala, Cuba, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, et cetera although these full official records are still classified.
Steven Kinzer’s Bitter Fruit tells about the CIA’s 1954 coup in Guatemala leading to mass slaughter of Maya Indians, and All the Shah’s Men describesthe Iranian coup. An excellent article gives a brief history that led up to these tragic events, starting with the British involvement in Middle Eastern oil, and a bibliography about the U.S. corruption and deceit.
Parts of the 1953 coup were repeated 20 years later against Salvador Allende in Chile when the U.S. participated in the overthrow of the elected socialist president. Following decades of being considered a beacon of democracy and political stability, Chile was controlled by despot Augusto Pinochet in a reign of terror that lasted 16 years.
These are just a few of the U.S.-involved coups in the last century, some of them against democratically-elected leaders. In the beginning of this century, George W. Bush started preemptive wars against two separate Middle Eastern countries, and a decade later, we are facing another one in Syria. The Congressional war hawks demanding an attack on Syria are led by former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) who has support among some lawmakers.
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) has gathered at least 37 legislator signatures on a letter asking the president to reconvene Congress for a debate about and vote on any military action in Syria, per the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Even senators who support punishing Syria for its alleged chemical weapons attacks are requesting Congressional approval before any action against Syria.
At this time, the United Nations has not determined that there were attacks with chemical weapons or who might have carried them out if these indeed did happen. Extreme caution should be demanded, especially based on the country’s track record of lying to the world about the need for global violence.