8/16/2005

Operation Ajax: CIA messed up Iran in 1953 and the Fallout is still going

GW was not the fisrt Amrican idiotic action on the Middle East, not even the second as the afghanistan and the Mujahedeem proved to be another Frankenstein. (I was going to write CIA frankenstein but then it ocurred to me that just like Iraq, maybe the CIA just got the bad rap, after rightfully opposing it and being ignored by the bigwigs at the time) -- law

TPAJAX Turns 52. Fallout in Iran Still Sizzling. And a Poll.
by Meteor Blades [Unsubscribe]
Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 18:35:46 CDT

At the behest of two of the most powerful brothers in U.S. history, the aristocratic grandson of a famous president engineers a coup d'etat against a secular, democratically minded reformist leader and replaces him with a pro-Nazi prime minister overseen by a spoiled, craven monarch who proceeds to keep democracy at bay, the oil flowing and the torture chambers full for the next quarter century, after which he is ousted and there follows the most devastating example of blowback America has ever suffered. Blowback that continues today.

Unfortunately, that's not a script being pitched to a Hollywood studio. It's history. Operation Ajax. Planning and control: CIA. Target: Iran. Objective: its oil, its near-Soviet locale and its democratic prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.

You can still find the most outrageous rightwing apologia for what happened in 1953 in Iran. Like this one from a book review in the Middle East Quarterly:

In fact, Mussadiq fell not because of CIA actions but because he had alienated large segments of the Iranian population, including the devoutly religious. He was no democrat: when they were sympathetic to him, he was happy to rely on crowds, mobilized by the communist Tudeh party, to pressure parliament. And the famous coup to overthrow him consisted simply of the shah exercising his constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister. Readers must look elsewhere for a balanced analysis of the overthrow of Mussadiq.



Since I wouldn't want to be accused of what NeoImp Jeane Kirkpatrick so often called the "blame America first" crowd, let me first say a word about the British. Without their unbendable colonial mentality, without Winston Churchill's insufferable superiority complex, the CIA might never have had the chance to put together Operation Ajax, which, in fact, was just a takeover of the Brits' Operation Boot. And without the amoral arrogance of the Dulles Brothers, the imprimatur of Dwight Eisenhower, the enthusiastic spookery of Kermit Roosevelt and the collaboration of many bribed Iranians, including the vain and insecure Shah, Iran today might be truly democratic, or at least a lot closer to it. Instead, one can draw a straight line from that CIA coup 52 years ago to the snapping of the seals at Iran's uranium conversion plant last week.


If you want the details, journalist Steven Kinzer is a good place to start. Twenty-one years ago, he co-wrote Bitter Fruit, the story of the 1954 CIA coup in Guatemala that eventually led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Mayans. Two years ago, he wrote All the Shah's Men, the story of the coup which gave the Dulles brothers the hubris to engineer the Guatemalan coup. National Review wasn't particularly fond of Kinzer's take on what happened in 1953 and headlined its sneering review, A Very Elegant Coup. Scarcely a surprise from folks who still consider Franco and Pinochet saviors. CIA staff historian David S. Robarge had objections, too, but generally gave Kinzer high marks. For an officially sanctioned Iranian side of the matter, you might check out Mostafa T. Zahrani's article The Coup That Changed the Middle East. The CIA's own 200-page history of the coup, written by Donald Wilber, one of the operation's chief planners in 1954, only came to light in April 2000.



British interests had paid a brazenly cheap price to a lavishly corrupt king, Muzzafir al-Din Shah, in 1901 for an exclusive concession to seek, develop and distribute the oil resources of Iran. In a treaty Iranian officials were told about after it was signed, Britain and Russia split control of Iran in 1907, and in 1908, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company started a trickle of black gold that over the years grew to a river. In 1913, spurred by Winston Churchill, who saw war coming, the British government bought 51% of the company for ₤2 million.


Anglo-Persian built Iran's petroleum infrastructure, including the giant refinery town on the northwest tip of the Persian Gulf at Abadan, where tens of thousands of impoverished workers and their families lived under appalling circumstances.


There were a few hiccups, but nothing the imperial Brits couldn't handle. In '32, the new shah, Reza Khan, upset over the vast income of Anglo-Persian, demanded a rewriting of the concession that gave the country only 16% of company profits and no auditing rights. But he settled for an annual revenue floor of ₤975,000 and agreed to extend the concession to 1993. The British forced him to abdicate in favor of his vacillating playboy son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in '41.


Oil production nearly tripled during World War II, but workers lives didn't improve. The Brits ignored their promises to build hospitals, roads, schools and a telephone system, or to provide Iranians with the high-end skills to actually run what was then the largest oil refinery in the world. When workers went on strike in 1946, their British overseers opted for the divide-and-conquer routine that had worked so well in so many other places. They hired ethnic Arabs, created for them a phony union, and sent them to battle - literally - against the strikers.


In Blood and Oil: Inside the Shah's Iran, Manucher Farmanfarmaian, who became director of Iran's petroleum institute in 1949, wrote:



Wages were fifty cents a day. There was no vacation pay, no sick leave, no disability compensation. The workers lived in shanty-town called Kaghazabad, or Paper City, without running water or electricity, let alone such luxuries as iceboxes or fans. In winter the earth flooded and became a flat, perspiring lake. The mud in town was knee-deep, and canoes ran alongside the roadways for transport. When the rains subsided, clouds of nipping, small-winged flies rose from the stagnant waters to fill the nostrils, collecting in black mounds along the rims of cooking pots and jamming the fans at the refinery with an unctuous glue....


To the management of AIOC in their pressed ecru shirts and air-conditioned offices, the workers were faceless drones. ... In the British section of Abadan there were lawns, rose beds, tennis courts, swimming pools and clubs; in Kaghazabad there was nothing, not a tea shop, not a bath, not a single tree. The tiled reflecting pool and shaded central square that were part of every Iranian town, no matter how poor or dry, were missing here. The unpaved alleyways were emporiums for rats. The man in the grocery store sold his wares while sitting in a barrel of water to avoid the heat. Only the shriveled, mud-brick mosque in the old quarter offered hope in the form of divine redemption.


Meanwhile, in the Majlis, the Iranian parliament heretofore ignored by both the Shah and the British, a stalwart, aging man with a reputation for searing honesty and Iranian patriotism wrote and pushed a new law banning the granting of any more foreign concessions and requiring renegotiation of the existing Anglo-Iranian concession. His name was Mohammad Mossadeq.


If the British had, right then and there, seen the handwriting on the wall, and chosen to bargain in good faith, they might not only have kept their concession, but the world might never have heard the name Ruhollah Khomeini.


Instead they made a few piddling improvements to their one-sided deal and refused to negotiate further, doing so in a self-caricature of pigheaded hauteur, which inflamed Iranian sentiment and pushed Mossadeq in a direction he was not unhappy to go.


With the Brits so far removed reality, and only the puppet Shah in favor of their offer, nationalization of Anglo-Iranian became the war cry of the nationalists. Mossadeq soon found himself accepting the prime ministership, whereupon the company was nationalized, and the British began planning an invasion to institute regime change, which Harry Truman refused to support, and then a coup, which Truman refused to countenance.


They might still have gone ahead, except that Mossadeq suddenly kicked out all the British, including a lot of spooks.



The Brits sabotaged Abadan on their way out, claimed all oil moving on tankers out of Iran was theirs, and, to encourage everybody to observe their embargo, seized the Rose Mary and forced it into the port at Aden, and began a covert campaign to cripple the economy. Needless to say, the oil revenues Iran depended upon dried up, and anger among many previous supporters weakened Mossadeq. But he refused to give in to the British, and most Iranians still backed him. When he spoke in Europe and, later, America, he won a great deal of sympathy for eloquently delivering what many observers considered the perfectly obvious truth: Britain had screwed Iran and was prepared to continue doing so. In October 1951, at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, he accused the British of trying ...


... "to persuade world opinion that the lamb has devoured the wolf. ... The government of the United Kingdom has made abundantly clear that it has no interest in negotiating, and has instead used every illegitimate means of economic, psychological and military pressure that it could lay its hands on to break our will. Having first concentrated its warships along our coasts and paratroopers at nearby bases, it makes a great parade of its love for peace."


The British lost the ICJ case.


Like all leaders, Mossadeq was no saint. But even his toughest foes have conceded that 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. Educated in France and Switzerland, he was no enemy of "western values," but rather a great believer in secular democracy.


He was also shrewd politician. On his way from the United Nations in New York to meet Truman in D.C., Mossadeq stopped off in Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall, which he told a cheering crowd represented the principles of liberty that united Americans and Iranians. Although Truman and his deputies urged Mossadeq to give some ground in his dispute with Anglo-Iranian, they were sandbagged by London, which repeatedly couched it original offer in new language. In Truman's view, the "blockheaded" British were at least as much to blame as Mossadeq, and the president was unwilling to give the OK to a coup or invasion by the British, who were now once again being governed by that wily old imperialist Winston Churchill.


When Eisenhower was elected, however, U.S. opposition to a coup not only melted away but became something top-level officials felt they should take on as their own project. And that's exactly what they did, with John Foster Dulles at the State Department and Allen Dulles at the CIA enthusiastically getting the operation underway.


Their rationale was simple. Iran bordered the Soviet Union and Moscow had had designs on the place since far back in the tsarist period. The nationalist turmoil in Iran might give the communists in the Tudeh party the opportunity to give the country away to the Reds. (British Foreign Office documents declassified some years ago prove that U.S. and U.K. intelligence agents knew the Tudeh was marginal, and, more importantly, not connected with Mossadeq. But that wasn't how their propagandists portrayed him.)



Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore, linked up with his MI-6 counterparts to make use of Britain's "assets" in Iran. These included men who knew, among other things, which newspaper editors, army generals, police captains, mullahs and merchants should be bribed. Men who knew where to find street thugs who could pretend to be rampaging communists. Men who could not have cared less about prying their country from foreign clutches.


In a flurry of activity worthy of a Le Carré novel, Roosevelt met secretly in an automobile with the Shah and with General Fazlollah Zahidi to get Operation Ajax underway. Scarcely a more cynical choice for replacing Mossadeq could be imagined. A grain profiteer, the general had been imprisoned by the British during the war for working with Nazi agents to organize a tribal revolt that was to have coincided with a German thrust into Iran.


Elements of the coup would be repeated 20 years later against Allende in Chile. Newspaper editors were paid to spread lies that Mossadeq was pro-communist and out to destroy the armed forces. Religious leaders were attacked by CIA-funded street thugs who would make it appear they were ordered into action by Mossadeq or his supporters. 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. All through July and early August, the CIA's presses poured out a steady stream of vitriol against Mossadeq.


The prime minister, firm believer in democracy that he was, ordered the police not to take action against street protesters and made no attempt to censor the newspapers, many of which were calling for his head on a platter.


As Wilber writes in the CIA history of the coup:


At this same time the psychological campaign against Mossadeq was reaching its climax. The controllable press was going all out against Mossadeq, while [DELETED] under station direction was printing material which the station considered to be helpful. CIA agents gave serious attention to alarming the religious leaders at Tehran by issuing black propaganda in the name of the Tudeh party, threatening these leaders with save punishment if they opposed Mossadeq. Threatening phone calls were also made to them, in the name of the Tudeh, and one of several sham bombings of the houses of these leaders was carried out. ..


On 14 August the station cabled that upon the conclusion of TPAJAX the Zahedi government, in view of the empty treasury of the country, would be in urgent need of funds. The of $5,000,000 was suggested, and CIA was asked to produce this sum almost within hours after the conclusion of the operation.


Not everyone thought the coup was a good idea, including Roger Goiran, the CIA's Tehran station chief.



According to Kinzer, Goiran quite presciently:


... believed that this would be a great mistake and warned that if the coup was carried out, Iranians would forever view the United States as a supporter of what he called "Anglo-French colonialism." His opposition was so resolute that Allen Dulles had to remove him from his post.


On August 15, the go-ahead for coup was given. It failed in its first hours. Warned by some still-unknown informant, loyal army commanders arrested several of the conspirators, and had them in jail shortly after midnight. Zahidi went into hiding.


Roosevelt's supervisors in Washington urged him to flee if he was at risk. But he chose to stay and try again. While despising his efforts, one can still be awed by his audacity and cleverness. Compliant newspapers published stories saying the coup had actually been an attempt by Mossadeq to get rid of the Shah, commanders of small military outposts in the capital were bribed, more "black" street protests were organized (with communist chants, attacks on bystanders and gunshots at mosques all part of their menu).


On August 17, groups of toughs pretending to be Mossadegh supporters marched through the streets, ending at Parliament Square, where they toppled a bronze equestrian statue of Reza Khan.


Roosevelt wrote in his highly selective book Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran:


"This was the best thing we could have hoped for. The more they shouted against the Shah, the more the army and the people recognized them as the enemy. If they hated the Shah, the army and the people hated them. And the more they ravaged the city, the more they angered the great bulk of its inhabitants. Nothing could have dramatized the guts of the conflict more effectively or more rapidly. On Sunday there had been some rioting and pillaging, but Monday put frosting on the cake."



On Tuesday, August 18, the rioting spread. At the request of the lying U.S. Ambassador, who told Mossedeq Americans were being insulted and intimidated in the streets, the prime minister called in the cops, who stopped the demonstrators in a frenzy of violence. Mossadeq then banned further protests, even calling his allies to tell them to keep their people off the streets. Thus did he disarm himself.


The next day, Zahedi's bribed officers began seizing key points around Tehran and moved on Mossadeq's home, where loyal army units exchanged machine-gun and tank rounds with the CIA-backed rebels for two hours before surrendering. Mossadeq fled and a reward was put up for his capture.


Having gotten word of their success, the conspirators brought a record from the U.S. Embassy so as to have some appropriate martial music to play over Tehran's official radio before Zahedi spoke to the nation. When they discovered the first song was "The Star-Spangled Banner," they quickly lifted the needle and replaced in the groove of something less obvious.


Mossadeq soon surrendered, was tried and confined first to his home and then to his village for the rest of his life. Savak, the soon-to-be-notorious secret police trained by CIA and Mossad agents would station several of its agents with Mossadeq for the rest of his life, allowing him few visits with anyone other than relatives. It was to be one of Savak's more benign activities. When he died in 1967, no expression of public mourning was permitted.


The cowardly Shah, who had, typically, fled to Rome with his wife as soon as the August 15 coup went sour, returned to thank Roosevelt. Immediately, he began a 26-year dictatorial reign, modernization replete with imprisonment, torture and slaughter of dissidents.


As for the British, their hopes that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company - renamed British Petroleum in 1954 - would return to its old glory were dashed. While Ike and Churchill had both signed off on Operation Ajax, the Americans had done the heavy lifting, and they demanded a fat share of the spoils. Hence, Anglo-American got 40% of the oil concession, five U.S. companies got 40%, and 20% went to Shell and the French-owned CFP. It was agreed that the consortium would share profits with the National Iranian Oil Company 50-50, but it would neither open its books to Iranian auditors nor its board to Iranian directors.


When Jimmy Carter permitted the Shah to come to the United States in late 1979, months after the Islamic revolution, many of the Iranian students who subsequently stormed the U.S. embassy and took hostages in Tehran justified themselves on the grounds that Washington was preparing to reinstall that sick, old man to power. Most of those students - one of whom may have been the man who now serves as the Iranian theocracy's elected figurehead - were hardly philosophical successors to Mossadeq, but they were imbued with the legacy of the '53 coup: They and their parents had lived with its horrific consequences.


In a 1987 article in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, The 1953 Coup d'Etat in Iran, historian Mark J. Gasiorowski wrote:



In retrospect, the United States-sponsored coup d'etat in Iran of August 19, 1953, has emerged as a critical event in postwar world history. The government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, which was ousted in the coup, was the last popular, democratically oriented government to hold office in Iran. The regime replacing it was a dictatorship that suppressed all forms of popular political activity, producing tensions that contributed greatly to the 1978-1979 Iranian revolution. If Mosaddeq had not been overthrown, the revolution might not have occurred. ...


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.


These CIA men and their bosses were international outlaws who never repented or even, as Roosevelt's memoirs prove, came clean on what they actually did in Iran, and later, elsewhere. Obviously, the nasty nature of the current regime in Iran is only partially a product of those know-it-all men of five decades ago. The mullahs have plenty of crimes of their own for which they will unlikely be called to account.


But listening to the chest-thumping of the Dubyanocchio Administration regarding Iran, and trembling over the possibility - however slight - that this is a prelude to an expansion of America's nightmare foreign policy in the Middle East, I can only hope - naively, I suppose - that we will not forevermore be led by men whose hubris and inhumanity combine with greed to make difficult situations disastrous, both for Americans and the rest of the people on this planet.



It would make a great movie.

Straightforward plot. Characters bigger than life. Stunning success against difficult odds after initial failure.

At the behest of two of the most powerful brothers in U.S. history, the aristocratic grandson of a famous president engineers a coup d'etat against a secular, democratically minded reformist leader and replaces him with a pro-Nazi prime minister overseen by a spoiled, craven monarch who proceeds to keep democracy at bay, the oil flowing and the torture chambers full for the next quarter century, after which he is ousted and there follows the most devastating example of blowback America has ever suffered. Blowback that continues today.

Unfortunately, that's not a script being pitched to a Hollywood studio. It's history. Operation Ajax. Planning and control: CIA. Target: Iran. Objective: its oil, its near-Soviet locale and its democratic prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq.

You can still find the most outrageous rightwing apologia for what happened in 1953 in Iran. Like this one from a book review in the Middle East Quarterly:

* Meteor Blades's diary :: ::
*

In fact, Mussadiq fell not because of CIA actions but because he had alienated large segments of the Iranian population, including the devoutly religious. He was no democrat: when they were sympathetic to him, he was happy to rely on crowds, mobilized by the communist Tudeh party, to pressure parliament. And the famous coup to overthrow him consisted simply of the shah exercising his constitutional power to dismiss the prime minister. Readers must look elsewhere for a balanced analysis of the overthrow of Mussadiq.

Since I wouldn't want to be accused of what NeoImp Jeane Kirkpatrick so often called the "blame America first" crowd, let me first say a word about the British. Without their unbendable colonial mentality, without Winston Churchill's insufferable superiority complex, the CIA might never have had the chance to put together Operation Ajax, which, in fact, was just a takeover of the Brits' Operation Boot. And without the amoral arrogance of the Dulles Brothers, the imprimatur of Dwight Eisenhower, the enthusiastic spookery of Kermit Roosevelt and the collaboration of many bribed Iranians, including the vain and insecure Shah, Iran today might be truly democratic, or at least a lot closer to it. Instead, one can draw a straight line from that CIA coup 52 years ago to the snapping of the seals at Iran's uranium conversion plant last week.

Daily Kos: TPAJAX Turns 52. Fallout in Iran Still Sizzling. And a Poll.

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