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Iran 1953

The CIA directed and organized the coup that on August 19,1953, successfully overthrew the government of Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, who had connived with the Iranian Communist party and nationalized certain foreign oil holdings in his country. Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt, grandson of former U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt was the CIA agent who masterminded the downfall of Mossadegh and enabled Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to keep his throne.

The operation in Iran, codenamed TPAJAX, was prompted largely by British concerns conveyed to President Eisenhower soon after he took office in 1953, that Iran soon might fall into communist hands. Two years earlier In1951, the Iranian government, led by its 69-year-old nationalist prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which was supplying 90 percent of Europe's petroleum. The British government, a majority shareholder in the company, was infuriated and began looking at ways, including military action, to topple the Mossadegh government.

Mossadegh got wind of the plotting, however, and closed the British embassy and expelled British citizens from the country. Without a base of operations in Iran, the British turned to President Truman. Although worried about Iran falling into Soviet hands, Truman vetoed the idea of military action against Iran and was unsympathetic to the idea of a coup. CIA had never overthrown a government, he reportedly told the British, and he did not want to establish such a precedent here. Truman had met Mossadegh when he visited Washington in 1951 - Mossadegh had been named Time magazine's Man of the Year that year - and was not unsympathetic to the nationalist movement he led in Iran.

When the Eisenhower came to office, however, the British found a more sympathetic ear. By this point, there was growing dissatisfaction with Mossadegh inside Iran among those who wished to return control of the country to the monarch. Moreover, his relationship with the Soviet Union seemed to be growing closer, and the communist Tudeh party had gained strength and had largely aligned itself with Mossadegh. DCI Dulles and others warned Eisenhower in the spring of 1953 that the Iranian government was in danger of collapse, potentially giving the Soviets an opportunity to seize control. On the basis of these concerns, Eisenhower approved, with apparent reluctance, a covert effort to overthrow Mossadegh.

This came about a few months later, in August 1953, after further US diplomatic efforts to compromise the oil issue with the British government had failed. The operation was orchestrated largely by a single CIA officer sent to the scene - Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. After securing the approval of the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, for the coup - the Shah also agreed to sign a decree dismissing Mossadegh that was to provide it legitimacy - Roosevelt set about to create a situation in which the coup could occur. Using a network of contacts left behind by British intelligence and the Agency's own assets, he mounted an intensive propaganda campaign against Mossadegh, spurring demonstrations and protests across the country.

When the time came to oust the prime minister, however, the effort faltered. Mossadegh had gotten wind of the coup and had the Iranian military officer who was to deliver the decree dismissing him arrested. The shah fled the country, fearing for his safety, and Mossadegh thought he had put at end to the coup. Roosevelt tried again a few days later, however, first organizing violent "fake" demonstrations against the monarchy, which were in fact, joined by members of the Tudeh party; then organizing "backlash" demonstrations in support of the Shah. As these played out, the Iranian military units, police, andrural tribesmen under Roosevelt's control were able to overcome the limited military forces that Mossadegh could muster.

Mossadegh was arrested, and the Shah returned to Teheran to take control. The New York Times portrayed the coup as an effort by Iranians loyal to the Shah to return him to power. The role of the CIA was not mentioned. In another article published the same day, however, the Times reported that the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, had charged that American agents operating inside Iran had engineered the coup. This might well have prompted the Agency's overseers in Congress to follow up with DCI Dulles, but there is no evidence that they did. In all likelihood, the charge, coming as it did from the Soviets, was not seen as credible.

There were no follow-up stories that immediately appeared in the American press, nor were there any formal congressional inquiries. Still, the upper reaches of the US security establishment were aware of what CIA had managed to pull off - Roosevelt himself had briefed them upon hisreturn. One of them, perhaps Dulles himself, might well have confided thestory to members of his choosing. Moreover, as time passed, the US role in theIranian coup became something of an open secret in Washington. Eisenhowerhimself noted with satisfaction what had taken place in Iran in his 1954 Stateof the Union address, referring to it as one of several "heartening political vic-tories [of his administration].won by the forces of stability and freedom."In any event, the perceived success of the operation in Iran undoubtedly contributed to the administration's decision later in the year to begin planninga similar kind of operation in Guatemala.



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