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August 19, 2003

50 years after Mossadeq
Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

mosaddeq_trial.jpgToday is the 50th anniversary of the American sponsored coup d'etat in Iran that ousted the popular prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. This event, with all its precursors and followings put an end to the golden age* of Iranian progressive movements. I find it instructive and very relevant to today's situation in Iran to discuss those dark days in this post. [My discussion is by no means complete or claims to be so - note added later]

First of all, the series of events in Iran that led to the removal of the British companies from Iran's oil production contracts (1951) marked a final step in the end of the British empire after the world war II. The oil nationalization movement set in motion by the Iranian National Front (popular with the people in general) at the time, even in the West was considered genuine and honorable, up to the extent that Mossadegh was chosen as the man of the year of the Time magazine. That could be because the movement showed no sympathy towards the Soviet Union and their supporters in Iran, the "Masses" party.

At this point many people would point at the Imperialistic visions of the US for sponsoring the coup d'etat that in practice created the darkest [maybe] periods for civil freedoms in Iran under the Shah. However, the US administration at the time had won the support of American people by magnifying the threat of International Communism [ding!], and the apparent instability of the Iranian monarchy led them to believe that another China was to be expected if Mossadegh had his way. Remember that this was the period that America was happily devouring her own brightest children suspected of communism. This adjustment of foreign policy resulted in the immediate increase of the CIA and American embassy staff in Tehran, and the beginning of preparation of a "dirt cheap" coup that would remove Mossadegh and bring in the military government of Zahedi.

The contradicting nature of the two phases of American love and hate affair with Mossadegh was catalyzed by the commercial gains obtained by the US oil companies virtually replacing the role of the British. The success of this enterprise led the US administration to a new international role and made it repeat the same patterns elsewhere in the world.

In Iran after the coup d'etat almost all of intellectual activities was suppressed. The only doors open to a people, once so devoted to representative governments and freedom from foreign interference, became those of the mosques; A place that finally lead them to the Islamic revolution of 1978.

Let me quote M. Gasiorowski from his article [also look at the notes] for a conclusion without further personal comments:

[...] Had the coup not occurred, Iran's future would undoubtedly have been vastly different. Similarly, the U.S. role in the coup and in the subsequent consolidation of the Shah’s dictatorship was decisive for the future of U.S. relations with Iran. U.S. complicity in these events figured prominently in the terrorist attacks on American citizens and installations that occurred in Iran in the early 1970s, in the anti American character of the 1978-1979 revolution, and in the many anti-American incidents that emanated from Iran after the revolution, including, most notably, the embassy hostage crisis. Latter-day supporters of the coup frequently argue that it purchased twenty-five years of stability in Iran under a pro-American regime. As the dire consequences of the revolution for U.S. interests continue to unfold, one can only wonder whether this has been worth the long-term cost.
*the period between 1944 to 1953, between the coronation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after his father was ousted by the allied forces and the coup

saoshyant at August 19, 2003 02:26 PM [permalink]:
Dear Kaveh, your presentation is as thorough and succinct as that of a physicist, which I assume you are going to be very soon, if not yet. Thank you. I have a few questions, with some controversial comments: 1) Your presentation duly refers to the possibility of a causal relationship between the coup and the 1979 revolution, it is upon this premise that many historical narratives branch out to criticize the Imperialist component of the Iranian elite and the pro-UK/US ones in defeating a popular regime. However, if I may get into some technicalities of humanities and social science in modern terms, I believe one's historical narrative can be very selective about historical facts and thereby one can offer different ones: A) Is not this a fact that those leftist intellectuals in and outside the Iranian community who correctly criticize the US and the UK, play down the destructive role that the Tuder Party played in undermining Mossadegh's administration? For example, the Tuder Party recruited many young officers in the Armed Forces and developed a parallel coup plan with the co-operation of the KGB, that we are now aware of through the disclosed documents from the present Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs? B) Can one conclude from the above that if the US and the UK had not overthrown Mossadegh, he could very well have been overthrown by the communists? C) From A and B one can conclude that Mossadegh's administration was so naively reliant on a popular agenda that it failed to establish a proper security and intelligence force, as was suggested several times by General Riyahi the then Minister of Defence (I cite Colonel Gholamreza Nejati's books and writings in this area very broadly)? D) Hussein Macki, Iran's famous nationalist and member of the Parliament, has also criticized Mossadegh and his administration for not listening to the National Front's caucau's concerns that, despite all the problems caused by a divided Parliament (mainly through the pro-Shah representatives), it was better "not to dissolve the Parliament"? However, a referendum was held. 2) I hope my questions have not caused any offence to my Iranian friends on this website. I understand that, from personal encounters and research, there is a great deal of nostalgia and resepct for Mossadegh. He was a great man, and I regard him highly as an icon. Yet, Iranian elites, in so far as my anecdotal experience is concerned are not very receptive when it come to criticizing some of the less than democratic actions of his government, such as holding a sheer Yes/NO referendum to dissolve the Parliament (yes I know it was not a truly democratically elected one in many respects), especially without proper consultation with your well-wishing political allies? 3) The monarchist factions in 1947 formed a coalition and established a new Majleseh Mo-assesan, Assembly of Constitutents, and changed the Constitution in a way that it granted more discretionary powers to the Shah in appointing the Prime Minister and/or dissolving the Parliament. Mossadegh's actions in dissolving the Parliament, however were sanctioned by a huge popular support, and were as extra-cosntitutional as such powers granted to the Shah a few years earlier. May I remind us all that Mossadegh himself and the National Front had staunchly opposed the adoption of those provisions that would give one person arbitrary powers in the name of the Exigency of the State(!)? (This exigency or maslahat thing is such a ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
kaveh at August 19, 2003 02:52 PM [permalink]:

Dear Saoshyant,

I have no sense of nostalgia for Mossadegh's era. To me too, he is a symbol of hesitation and also a character who was never sure where to put his trust. I think he just got lucky with the nationalization of oil. Here I have only presented a narrative of the events, mind you, that appeals best to the current situation in Iran.

The mysterious role of the Soviet Union in this affair is a speculation (the Tudeh presence in army ranks was real and contributed much to the Americans' fear and many others' as well) that was never realised; This being said, are you trying to imply that a communist coup d'etat would have had more dire consequences? Maybe and myabe not, but still I can conclude that foreign intervention is always a dodgy business that can never be forgotten.

Mossadegh himself was not even representing people in a constituitioanl way, he was in fact only elected as a member of parliament and Shah chose him as his prime minister, he was not even coming from the oridinary people, but from a family related to both the previous dynasty and the "Ghashghai" feudalism.Even the golden era that I mentionned was only a natural consequence of the absence of power in Iran after WWII.

I still believe that I have only put a single conclusion in the end of my narrative and that is that of Gasiorowski which is actually a question of gain/loss.

Hossein at August 19, 2003 03:03 PM [permalink]:

I just wanted to introduce this new book written by S. Kinzer, a veteran correspondent for the New York Times, "All the Shah's Men" (

I haven't read the book myself yet but the author was on ABC News couple of weeks ago and he was talking about the idea that american sponsorship of 1953 coup has resulted in the rise of the new terrorist activities in Middle East. He also mentioned that British government which was losing its influence in the Middle East and needed American help in that situation, had tricked Americans in supporting the coup by convincing them that Mossadeq is supporting communists groups (they couldn't say "hey we're losing the oil there!").

seems to be a nice book.

Senior Grad at August 19, 2003 05:00 PM [permalink]:

I just read a brief informative review in The Economist of the book mentioned above.Un4tun8ly, it doesn't exist online! But can do what I did: Go to your hood's bookstore, read the review, and then kindly put the magazine back on the rack. :>

The review starts like this:

THE overthrow of Saddam Hussein may seem to herald a new era of intervention, but America and Britain have been partners in pre-emptive regime change before. Fifty years ago this week, the CIA and the Secret Intelligence Service toppled the democratically elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. His government had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner of BP) in protest against working conditions and British unwillingness to share profits evenly.

Check for other articles.

Yashar at August 19, 2003 06:17 PM [permalink]:

is that picture taken in the millitary court? or is it during his premiership?

Kaveh at August 19, 2003 06:20 PM [permalink]:

It is his trial afterwards.

Hazhir at August 19, 2003 09:27 PM [permalink]:

Cool, I learnt a lot of interesting facts here. I have been some how skeptical of the level of praise for Mosaddegh, compared to his real contributions. However, my knowledge of historical facts fall far short of making any informed judgment on his real contributions and mistakes.
Meanwhile, I think we can recognize him as one of the only symbols left for bringing together people with democratic aspirations in Iran. This unifying and aspirational role may make some people with historical knowledge reluctant to open up the discussion on possible shortcomings of Mosaddegh.
To finish, let me give you a first hand experience of my father about mosaddegh which was interesting for me to hear. At 1330, my father has been a 7 year old boy, considering himself pro-mosaddegh (this obsession with politics is apparently not anything new in our culture!). His uncle, a prominent political figure, takes him to a speech by Mosaddegh, in Baharestan sqr. leaving my father to sit under the podium that Mosaddegh has been talking from. Apparently during his emotional speech Mosaddegh faints a couple of times, going down the podium for a couple of minutes, where in fact he appears to be healthy and fresh, sipping on a cup of tea/coffee. The most troubling part of the story for my young father has been seeing him there shaking his head and repeatedly saying "Ajab mellat kharian!" (what a stupid people!).

Saeed at August 20, 2003 02:27 AM [permalink]:

I think the US coup was an important factor for radicalization of the Islamic revolution.

Events like US embassy hostage crisis or 9/11 are echoes of history and US is partly responsible for the formation of these radical movements.

saoshyant at August 20, 2003 03:14 PM [permalink]:

Dear Kaveh:

I appreciate your response and I find it very well put. I myself am not sure how much the Soviet's possible intervention was exaggerated to justify the coup or not. The most important thing about the 1953 Coup, I would say, is that much more historical research is yet to be done. Dr. Javad Sheikholeslami, a prominent Professor of Political Science at the Tehran University, who I think died a few years ago in his 80s, argued that both the Pahlavi coups (the 1922 and the 1953) were more or less the emergent result of the anti-communist concerns of the then English-speaking power (either the US or the UK or both). Would a coup by the Communists have more sever consequences for the overall historical future of Iran, well my crystal ball is no better than yours. However, when I look at the present situation in the former Soviet republics, I do not think it would be any better.

mohsen jamshidi at October 4, 2003 07:45 AM [permalink]:

This message was removed by the FToI editors for violating the rule 2 of the comment policy.

Senior Grad at October 4, 2003 06:51 PM [permalink]:

Bravo to dilignet moderators. :-)

I think you should put it in square brackets, though! I was confused for almost 5 minutes what message mohsen jamshidi is referring to!

Ali Mahani at October 5, 2003 03:27 AM [permalink]:

Eh.... between ourselves, what was that censored message, I'd like to know?

jim f at December 13, 2003 06:02 PM [permalink]:

glaspie to saddam 1990 prior to kuwaiti invasion--we don't interfere in interarabic affairs ha!

Arian at December 29, 2003 08:32 PM [permalink]:

I think Mossadegh has approached the TUdeh party because he had no choice. He played with them... and he lost. But he was not a communist, definitely not !