[Editor’s note: Three years ago, the US finally admitted responsibility (in cohorts with the British) for the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran. The US had taken ‘covert action’ under the TPAJAX Project.
Today, the US has released a trove of documents that finally disclose the details of it’s infamous coup that plunged Iran into decades of unrest and eventual takeover by Islamic Fundamentalism. Ian]
Here is a short breakdown of the events of 1953 from The Mossadegh Foundation:
Mossadegh and the Coup d’Etat of 1953
The 1953 Iranian coup d’état (known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup) saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh on 19 August 1953 and the installation of a military government. This coup was orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and the United States under the name TPAJAX Project. The result of this event was that under the direct orders of Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the administration of the country got out of the hands of the parliament to find itself under the supervision of an illegitimate government. The establishment of this power was under major support of its foreign allies until its overthrow in 1979.
In 1951, Iran’s oil industry was nationalized with near-unanimous support of Iran’s parliament in a bill introduced by Mossadegh, who led the oil commission of the parliament. Iran’s oil had been controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) under license, and was only a source of little revenue for the country. Popular discontent with the AIOC began in the late 1940s as a large segment of Iran’s public and a number of politicians saw the company as exploitative and a vestige of British imperialism. Despite Mosaddegh’s popular support, Britain was unwilling to negotiate its single most valuable foreign asset, and instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil to pressure Iran economically. Initially, Britain mobilized its military to seize control of the Abadan oil refinery, the world’s largest, but Prime Minister Clement Attlee opted instead to tighten the economic boycott while using Iranian agents to undermine Mosaddegh’s government. With a change to more conservative governments in both Britain and the United States, Churchill and the U.S. Eisenhower administration decided to overthrow Iran’s government though the previous U.S. Truman administration had opposed a coup.
Britain and the U.S. selected Fazlollah Zahedi to be the prime minister of a military government that was to replace Mosaddegh’s government. Subsequently, a royal decree dismissing Mosaddegh and appointing Zahedi was drawn up by the coup plotters and signed by the Shah. The Central Intelligence Agency had successfully pressured the weak monarch to participate in the coup, while bribing street thugs, clergy, politicians and Iranian army officers to take part in a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh and his government. At first, the coup appeared to be a failure when on the night of 15–16 August, Imperial Guard Colonel Nematollah Nassiri was arrested while attempting to arrest Mosaddegh. With this arrest, the plan was put in action differently. After the Shah getting away from the country, on 19 August, a pro-Shah mob paid by the CIA marched on Mosaddegh’s residence. According to the CIA’s declassified documents and records, some of the most feared mobsters in Tehran were hired by the CIA to stage pro-Shah riots on 19 August. Other CIA-paid men were brought into Tehran in buses and trucks, and took over the streets of the city. Many people were killed during and as a direct result of the conflict. Mosaddegh was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the Shah’s military court. On 21 December 1953, he was sentenced to three years in jail, then placed under house arrest in Ahmad Abad for the remainder of his life.
After the coup, the tangible benefits the United States reaped from overthrowing Iran’s elected government included a share of Iran’s oil wealth as well as resolute prevention of the slim possibility that the Iranian government might align itself with the Soviet Union, although the latter motivation still produces controversy among historians. Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi ruled as an authoritarian monarch for the next 26 years, while depending on the support of the powers that had supported him in the coup until he was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1979.
US releases documents of Iran’s 1953 Coup
“The publication (of these documents) is the culmination of decades of internal debates and public controversy after a previous official collection omitted all references to the role of American and British intelligence in the ouster of Iran’s then-prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq.” according to National Security Archive.
The documents are part of the US Department of State’s venerable Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series which are published by the Department.
“For decades, neither the U.S. nor the British governments would acknowledge their part in Mosaddeq’s overthrow, even though a detailed account appeared as early as 1954 in The Saturday Evening Post, and since then CIA and MI6 veterans of the coup have published memoirs detailing their activities,” according to National Security Archive.
In 2000, The New York Times posted a 200-page classified internal CIA history of the operation and in 1989, the State Department released what purported to be the official record of the coup period but it made not a single reference to American and British actions in connection with the event, according to National Security Archive.
The omission led to the resignation of the chief outside adviser on the series, and prompted Congress to pass legislation requiring “a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record” of U.S. foreign policy.
After the end of the Cold War, the CIA committed to open agency files on Iran and other covert operations, and the State Department vowed to produce a “retrospective” volume righting the earlier decision but it took until 2011 for the CIA to – partially – fulfill its commitment, according to National Security Archive.
The US and the British governments’ justifications to not mention their roles in the coup were that they to protect their intelligence sources and methods, bow to British government requests and, more recently, avoid stirring up Iranian hardline elements who, according to their claims, might seek to undercut the nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and other P5+1 members in 2015.
On the preface of this volume published by the Department of State it is said that ‘This Foreign Relations retrospective volume focuses on the use of covert operations by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as an adjunct to their respective policies toward Iran, culminating in the overthrow of the Mosadeq government in August 1953.’
This volume contains a lot of documents about the correspondences between the US embassy in Tehran, the US Department of State and the CIA.
In one of the published documents on August 19, 1953, there is a five-million-dollar request of CIA agent from the US to help Zahedi’s government which reveals that the US besides its advising role in launching the coup had the direct role of funding the coup makers against Mosadeq government.