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implied that American "clandestine" agencies were behind the plot despite the
disapproval of high-ranking US officials.10
The revelations about the secret army and its hit-list resulted in a storm of
ridicule and denunciation falling upon the United States from many quarters in West
Germany. In particular, the delicious irony of the Americans working hand-in-glove
with "ex"-Nazis did nor escape the much-castigated German people.
This operation in Germany, it was revealed many years later, was part of a much
wider network”called "Operation Gladio"”created by the CIA and other European
intelligence services, with similar secret armies all over Western Europe. (See Western
Europe chapter.)



9. Iran 1953
Making it safe for the King of Kings

"So this is how we get rid of that madman Mossadegh," announced John Foster
Dulles to a group of top Washington policy makers one day in June 1953.1 The
Secretary of State held in his hand a plan of operation to overthrow the prime minister
of Iran prepared by Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt of the CIA. There was scarcely any
discussion amongst the high-powered men in the room, no probing questions, no legal
or ethical issues raised.
"This was a grave decision to have made," Roosevelt later wrote. "It involved
tremendous risk. Surely it deserved thorough examination, the closest consideration,
somewhere at the very highest level. It had not received such thought at this meeting. In



63
fact, I was morally certain that almost half of those present, if they had felt free or had
the courage to speak, would have opposed the undertaking."2
Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore and distant cousin of Franklin, was
expressing surprise more than disappointment at glimpsing American foreign-policy-
making undressed. The original initiative to oust Mossadegh had come from the British,
for the elderly Iranian leader had spearheaded the parliamentary movement to
nationalize the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), the sole oil
company operating in Iran, In March 1951, the bill for nationalization was passed, and
at the end of April Mossadegh was elected prime minister by a large majority of
Parliament, On 1 May, nationalization went into effect. The Iranian people, Mossadegh
declared, "were opening a hidden Treasure upon which lies a dragon".3
As the prime minister had anticipated, the British did not take the national
Nation grace-fully, though it was supported unanimously by the Iranian parliament and
by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people for reasons of both economic
justice and national pride. The Mossadegh government tried to do all the right things to
placate the British: It offered to set aside 25 percent of the net profits of the oil
operation as compensation; it guaranteed the safety and the jobs of the British
employees; it was willing to sell its oil without disturbance to the tidy control system so
dear to the hearts of the international oil giants. But the British would have none of it.
What they wanted was their oil company back. And they wanted Mossadegh's head. A
servant does not affront his lord with impunity.
A military show of force by the British navy was followed by a ruthless
international economic blockade and boycott, and a freezing of Iranian assets which
brought Iran's oil exports and foreign trade to a virtual standstill, plunged the already
impoverished country into near destitution, and made payment of any compensation
impossible. Nonetheless, and long after they had moved to oust Mossadegh, the British
demanded compensation not only for the physical assets of the AIOC, but for the value
of their enterprise in developing the oil fields; a request impossible to meet, and, in the
eyes of Iranian nationalists, something which decades of huge British profits had paid
for many times over.
The British attempt at economic strangulation of Iran could not have gotten off
the ground without the active co-operation and support of the Truman and Eisenhower
administrations and American oil companies. At the same time, the Truman
administration argued with the British that Mossadegh's collapse could open the door to
the proverbial communist takeover.4 When the British were later expelled from Iran,
however, they had no alternative but to turn to the United States for assistance in
toppling Mossadegh. In November 1952, the Churchill government approached
Roosevelt, the de facto head of the CIA's Middle East division, who told the British that
he felt that there was "no chance to win approval from the outgoing administration of
Truman and Acheson. The new Republicans, however, might be quite different."5
John Foster Dulles was certainly different. The apocalyptic anti-communist saw
in Mossadegh the epitome of all that he detested in the Third World: unequivocal
neutralism in the cold war, tolerance of Communists, and disrespect for free enterprise,
as demonstrated by the oil nationalization. (Ironically, in recent years Great Britain had
nationalized several of its own basic industries, and the government was the majority
owner of the AIOC.) To the likes of John Foster Dulles, the eccentric Dr. Mohammed
Mossadegh was indeed a madman. And when the Secretary of State considered further
that Iran was a nation exceedingly rich in the liquid gold, and that it shared a border
with the Soviet Union more than 1,000 miles long, he was not unduly plagued by
indecision as to whether the Iranian prime minister should finally retire from public life.


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As matters turned out, the overthrow of Mossadegh in August 1953 was much
more an American operation than a British one. Twenty-six years later, Kermit
Roosevelt took the unusual step of writing a book about how he and the CIA carried out
the operation. He called his book Countercoup to press home the idea that the CIA coup
was staged only to prevent a takeover of power by the Iranian Communist Party (The
Tudeh) closely backed by the Soviet Union. Roosevelt was thus arguing that Mossadegh
had to be removed to prevent a Communist takeover, whereas the Truman
administration had felt that Mossadegh had to be kept in power to prevent one.
It would be incorrect to state that Roosevelt offers little evidence to support his
thesis of the Communist danger. It would be more precise to say that he offers no
evidence at all. Instead, the reader is subjected to mere assertions of the thesis which are
stated over and over, apparently in the belief that enough repetition will convince even
the most skeptical. Thus are we treated to variations on the theme such as the following:
"The Soviet threat [was] indeed genuine, dangerous and imminent" ...
Mossadegh "had formed an alliance" with the Soviet Union to oust the Shah ... "the
obvious threat of Russian takeover" ... "the alliance between [Mossadegh] and the
Russian-dominated Tudeh was taking on a threatening shape" ... Mossadegh's
"increasing dependence on the Soviet Union" ... "the hand of the Tudeh, and behind
them the Russians, is showing more openly every day" ... "Russian backing of the
Tudeh and Tudeh backing of [Mossadegh] became ever more obvious" ... the Soviet
Union was "ever more active in Iran. Their control over Tudeh leadership was growing
stronger all the time. It was exercised often and, to our eyes, with deliberate ostentation"
...6
But none of this subversive and threatening activity was, apparently, ever open,
obvious, or ostentatious enough to provide Roosevelt with a single example he could
impart to a curious reader.
In actuality, although the Tudeh Party more or less faithfully followed the
fluctuating Moscow line on Iran, the relation of the party to Mossadegh was much mote
complex than Roosevelt and other cold-war chroniclers have made it out to be. The
Tudeh felt very ambiguous about the wealthy, eccentric, land-owning prime minister
who, nonetheless, was standing up to imperialism. Dean Acheson, Truman's Secretary
of State, described Mossadegh as "essentially a rich, reactionary, feudal-minded
Persian",7 hardly your typical Communist Party fellow-traveler.
On occasion the Tudeh had supported Mossadegh's policies; more often it had
attacked them bitterly, and in one instance, on 15 July 1951, a Tudeh-sponsored
demonstration was brutally suppressed by Mossadegh, resulting in some 100 deaths and
500 injured. The Iranian leader, moreover, had campaigned successfully against
lingering Soviet occupation of northern Iran after World War II, and in October 1947
had led Parliament in its rejection of a government proposal that a joint Irano-Soviet oil
company be set up to exploit the oil of northern Iran.8
What, indeed, did Mossadegh have to gain by relinquishing any of his power to
the Tudeh and/or the Soviet Union? The idea that the Russians even desired the Tudeh
to take power is no more than speculation. There was just as much evidence, or as little,
to conclude that the Russians, once again, were more concerned about their relationship
with Western governments than with the fate of a local Communist Party in a country
outside the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe.
A secret State Department intelligence report, dated 9 January 1953, in the
closing days of the Truman administration, stated that Mossadegh had not sought any
alliance with the Tudeh, and that "The major opposition to the National Front



65
[Mossadegh's governing coalition] arises from the vested interests, on the one hand, and
the Tudeh Party on the other."9
The Tudeh Party had been declared illegal in 1949 and Mossadegh had not lifted
that ban although he allowed the party to operate openly, at least to some extent because
of his democratic convictions, and had appointed some Tudeh sympathizers to
government posts.
Many of the Tudeh's objectives paralleled those espoused by the National Front,
the State Department report observed, but "An open Tudeh move for power ... would
probably unite independents and non-Communists of all political leanings and would
result ... in energetic efforts to destroy Tudeh by force."10
The National Front itself was a coalition of highly diverse political and religious
elements including right-wing anti-communists, held together by respect for
Mossadegh's personal character and honesty, and by nationalistic sentiments,
particularly in regard to the nationalization of oil.
In 1979, when he was asked about this State Department report, Kermit
Roosevelt replied: "I don't know what to make of that ... Loy Henderson [US
ambassador to Iran in 1953] thought that there was a serious danger that Mossadegh was
going to, in effect, place Iran under Soviet domination."11 Though he was the principal
moving force behind the coup, Roosevelt was now passing the buck, and to a man who,
as we shall see in the Middle East chapter, was given to alarmist statements about
"communist takeovers".
One can but wonder what Roosevelt, or anyone else, made of a statement by
John Foster Dulles before a Senate committee in July 1953, when the operation to oust
Mossadegh was already in process. The Secretary of State, the press reported, testified
"that there was 'no substantial evidence' to indicate that Iran was cooperating with
Russia. On the whole, he added, Moslem opposition to communism is predominant,
although at times the Iranian Government appears to rely for support on the Tudeh
party, which is communistic." l2
The young Shah of Iran had been relegated to little more than a passive role by
Mossadegh and the Iranian political process. His power had been whittled away to the
point where he was "incapable of independent action", noted the State Department
intelligence report. Mossadegh was pressing for control of the armed forces and more
say over expenditures of the royal court, and the inexperienced and indecisive Shah”
the "King of Kings"”was reluctant to openly oppose the prime minister because of the
latter's popularity-
The actual sequence of events instigated by Roosevelt which culminated in the
Shah's ascendancy appears rather simple in hindsight, even naive, and owed not a little
to luck. The first step was to reassure the Shah that Eisenhower and Churchill were
behind him in his struggle for power with Mossadegh and were willing to provide
whatever military and political support he needed. Roosevelt did not actually know
what Eisenhower felt, or even knew, about the operation and went so far as to fabricate
a message from the president to the Shah expressing his encouragement.13
At the same time, the Shah was persuaded to issue royal decrees dismissing
Mossadegh as prime minister and replacing him with one Fazlollah Zahedi, a general
who had been imprisoned during the war by the British for collaboration with the
Nazis.14 Late in the night of 14/15 August, the Shah's emissary delivered the royal
decree to Mossadegh's home, which was guarded by troops. Not surprisingly, he was
received very coolly and did not get in to see the prime minister. Instead, he was obliged
to leave the decree with a servant who signed a receipt for the piece of paper dismissing
his master from power. Equally unsurprising, Mossadegh did not abdicate. The prime


66
minister, who maintained that only Parliament could dismiss him, delivered a radio
broadcast the following morning in which he stated that the Shah, encouraged by
"foreign elements", had attempted a coup d'etat. Mossadegh then declared that he was,
therefore, compelled to cake full power unto himself. He denounced Zahedi as a traitor
and sought to have him arrested, but the general had been hidden by Roosevelt's team.
The Shah, fearing all was lost, fled with his queen to Rome via Baghdad without
so much as packing a suitcase. Undeterred, Roosevelt went ahead and directed the
mimeographing of copies of the royal decrees for distribution to the public, and sent two
of his Iranian agents to important military commanders to seek their support. It appears
that this crucial matter was left to the last minute, almost as an afterthought. Indeed, one
of the two Iranians had been recruited for the cause only the same day, and it was only
he who succeeded in winning a commitment of military support from an Iranian colonel
who had tanks and armored cars under his command.15
Beginning on 16 August, a mass demonstration arranged by the National Front,
supporting Mossadegh and attacking the Shah and the United States, took place in the
capital city, Teheran. Roosevelt characterizes the demonstrators simply as "the Tudeh,
with strong Russian encouragement", once again failing to offer any evidence to support
his assertion. The New York Times referred to them as "Tudeh partisans and Nationalist
extremists", the latter term being one which could have applied to individuals
comprising a wide range of political leanings.16
Among the demonstrators there were as well a number of individuals working
for the CIA. According to Richard Cottam, an American academic and author
reportedly in the employ of the Agency in Teheran at this time, these agents were sent
"into the streets to act as if they were Tudeh. They were more than just provocateurs,
they were shock troops, who acted as if they were Tudeh people throwing rocks at
mosques and priests", the purpose of which was to stamp the Tudeh and, by implication,
Mossadegh as being anti-religion.17
During the demonstrations, the Tudeh raised their familiar demand for the
creation of a democratic republic. They appealed to Mossadegh to form a united front
and to provide them with arms to defend against the coup, but the prime minister
refused.18 Instead, on 18 August he ordered the police and army to put an end to the
Tudeh demonstrations which they did with considerable force. According to the
accounts of Roosevelt and Ambassador Henderson, Mossadegh took this step as a result
of a meeting with Henderson in which the ambassador complained of the extreme
harassment being suffered by US citizens at the hands of the Iranians. It is left unclear
by both of the Americans how much of this harassment was real and how much
manufactured by them for the occasion. In any event, Henderson told Mossadegh that
unless it ceased, he would be obliged to order all Americans to leave Iran at once.
Mossadegh, says Henderson, begged him not to do this for an American evacuation
would make it appear that his government was unable to control the country, although at
the same time the prime minister was accusing the CIA of being behind the issuance of
the royal decrees.19 (The Tudeh newspaper at this time was demanding the expulsion of
"interventionist" American diplomats.)20
Whatever Mossadegh's motivation, his action was again in sharp contradiction to
the idea that he was in alliance with the Tudeh or that the party was in a position to grab
the reins of power. Indeed, the Tudeh did not take to the streets again.
The following day, 19 August, Roosevelt's Iranian agents staged a parade
through Teheran. With a fund of some one million dollars having been established in a
safe in the American embassy, the "extremely competent professional 'organizers'," as
Roosevelt called them, had no difficulty in buying themselves a mob, probably using


67
but a small fraction of the fund. (The various accounts of the CIA role in Iran have the
Agency spending from $10,000 to $19 million to overthrow Mossadegh. The larger
amounts are based on reports that the CIA engaged in heavy bribery of members of
Parliament and other influential Iranians to enlist their support against the prime
minister.)
Soon a line of people could be seen coming out of the ancient bazaar, led by
circus and athletic performers to attract the public. The marchers were waving banners,
shouting "Long live the Shah!" Along the edges of the procession, men were passing
out Iranian currency adorned with a portrait of the Shah. The demonstrators gathered
followers as they went, people joining and picking up the chants, undoubtedly for a
myriad of political and personal reasons. The balance of psychology had swung against
Mossadegh.
Along the way, some matchers broke ranks to attack the offices of pro-
Mossadegh newspapers and political parries, Tudeh and government offices. Presently,
a voice broke in over the radio in Teheran announcing that "The Shah's instruction that
Mossadegh be dismissed has been carried out. The new Prime Minister, Fazlollah
Zahedi, is now in office. And His Imperial Majesty is on his way home!"
This was a lie, or a "pre-truth" as Roosevelt suggested. Only then did he go to
fetch Zahedi from his hiding place. On the way, he happened to run into the commander
of the air force who was among the marching throng. Roosevelt told the officer to get
hold of a tank in which to carry Zahedi to Mossadegh's house in proper fashion.21
Kermit Roosevelt would have the reader believe that at this point it was all over
but the shouting and the champagne he was soon to uncork: Mossadegh had fled,
Zahedi had assumed power, the Shah had been notified to return”a dramatic, joyful,
and peaceful triumph of popular will. Inexplicably, he neglects to mention at all that in
the streets of Teheran and in front of Mossadegh's house that day, a nine-hour battle
raged, with soldiers loyal to Mossadegh on one side and those supporting Zahedi and
the Shah on the other. Some 300 people were reported killed and hundreds more
wounded before Mossadegh's defenders finally succumbed.22

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