The Edmond Sun

March 5, 2013

Against the Grain: Iranian coup perhaps not CIA’s best move

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — In Greek mythology Cadmus was a prince who planted the teeth of a dragon that he had slain and an army of ferocious warriors who tried to kill him arose from where those teeth had been sown. And it is possible that the U.S. government in effect sowed dragon teeth in Iran decades ago.   

In the Academy Award winning film “Argo” it is explained that in 1953 the American Central Intelligence Agency sponsored a coup in Iran that removed the government of Mohammed Mossadeq from power and replaced him with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The recently published “The Coup” by historian Ervand Abrahamian tells the story of that coup and the events that led up to it.

Mossadeq was the elected premier of Iran and in 1951 had nationalized the oil fields  in that country that had been owned by British-owned Iranian Anglo Oil Company. That firm had controlled much of Iranian oil production for decades, and had not paid the Iranians much for the oil they produced there. Mossadeq believed that Iran should control its own natural resources and his nationalization plan called for compensation for Anglo Iranian. The nationalization was approved by the vast majority of the Iranian people, and Mossadeq enjoyed wide popular support as a result.

But as Abrahmian documents, the British and the Americans feared that his actions could result is similar actions in other oil-producing states in the Middle East, and the American CIA and its British counterpart MI6 decided to take action to remove Mossadeq from power. Under Mossadeq, the Shah was a constitutional monarch who did not exercise any political power. But British and American operatives convinced Pahlavi that if Mossadeq was removed from power that he could rule as well as reign. Iranian military officers working under the direction of    British and American agents based in the American Embassy in Tehran began the coup on Aug.  22, 1953. The British Embassy had been closed after the nationalization of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. When the coup appeared to be failing the Shah fled to Beirut, Lebanon. But after Mossadeq was arrested by officers  involved in the coup the Shah returned to Iran and issued an order dismissing Mossadeq’s government.

Pahlavi subsequently issued another order that reversed the nationalization of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. Mossadeq was later put on trial and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The Shah remained a loyal ally of the U.S. and did its bidding in the Middle East until he was ousted by the revolution that occurred in 1979. The seeming success of the coup resulted in the CIA orchestrating similar regime changes against foreign governments deemed hostile to U.S. interests including the regime of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. But Abrahamian documents that a suspicion of the U.S. and its intentions became part of the Iranian mind set as a result of Mossadeq’s ouster.

He also reminds us that in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s subordinates ordered a group of young Iranians to storm the American Embassy because they believed that another coup was being planned there. That event resulted in the American diplomats and Marines stationed there being held hostage for 444 days. Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in Iran, any form of internal protest against it is deemed by the Ayatollahs to be the work of those who are working for the CIA. And when 100,000 Iranians gathered at Tehran University in 1980 on the anniversary of Mossadeq’s death and demanded more freedom, Ayatollah Khamenie, who would later succeed Khomeini, responded by saying “We are not liberals, like Allende, willing to be snuffed out by the CIA.”

One wonders if it was really in the long-term interests of the U.S. for the CIA to have staged a coup in Iran in 1953.



WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.