Stealth and deception under the crescent moon

It was notorious, it was underhanded and it was as sharp as an arrow to the heart of the Middle East. The 19th of August marks the anniversary of the 1953 coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh by the CIA-who publicly admitted no less that it was behind it- amidst British government interference to block release of its own dastardly hand in the overthrow.

Indeed the CIA was the proverbial pen that was mightier than the sword in this case as the Britain could not accomplish this feat alone. At the time Mosaddegh represented a serious threat to Britain’s strategic and economic interests after the Iranian leader nationalised the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, latterly known as BP.

Mosaddegh’s overthrow, still given as a reason for the Iranian mistrust of British and American politicians, consolidated the Shah’s rule for the next 26 years until the 1979 Islamic revolution. It was aimed at making sure the Iranian monarchy would safeguard the west’s oil interests in the country.

Despite some circles painting the Iranian people as complicit in the coup, there never would have been a coup if the U.S. and Britain hadn’t punished Iran with sanctions for wanting Britain to stop literally stealing its natural resources and subsequently having the CIA and M16 take advantage of the chaos that later ensued to overthrow its democratically elected, secular prime minister.

The notion that Western intelligence agencies can be absolved from responsibility because they used local proxies is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

Mosaddegh was clearly ousted for trying to nationalise Iran’s oil just as Patrice Lamumba of the Congo was ousted with CIA help after America did not warm to his socialist attitudes or his closeness to the USSR. The same can be applied to Allende of Chile.

American foreign policy at the time through the CIA clearly showed that they were not interested in democracy but in self interest and the expropriation of mineral resources.

Of course this couldn’t be tackled purely on external pressure alone. The US took advantage of a few corrupt and disgruntled officials and the rest let themselves be lead under the pressure of sanctions. The US MO of regime change extends far beyond Iran and the Middle East and has been responsible for the destabilisation and destruction of legitimate governments all over the world and the ensuing loss of life of millions of people.

There have been times in the UK’s post war history when well-funded agitators could have brought down some of its unpopular and flailing governments – especially if you add sanctions into the mix as the US have been doing for decades. The coup was orchestrated by the US and even now they still continue to agitate with the handful of “Persians’ they can find to legitimise them.

History has revealed clearly what was done to Mossadegh and Iranian democracy. Iran was not going to be allowed to control its own oil. The British and the U.S. governments created an uprising, like what was done in Chile in 1973. It is no wonder that the Iranian people do not trust the U.S. The US government, through the CIA and in service of the oil companies, destroyed Iran’s democracy and installed a brutal dictator who ruled till 1979.

Without the British boycott of Iranian oil, which basically shut down the oil industry in Iran, which Mossadegh planned to use the money for his democratic reforms, as well as the CIA involvement Iran would look much different today.

So why not play devils advocate for the moment in a wider context. With the Shah in power and his secret police SAVAK (trained by the CIA) torturing, murdering and jailing any dissenting viewpoint for 26 years the ONLY way for Iranians to organize was in the Mosques.

Without foreign involvement this particular coup may or may not have succeeded but there might well have been others. Iran has to face its own demons.

There is plenty of blame to around on all sides for all this sad history. And acknowledging it is the first step towards getting on the good path of understanding.

The crux of the reason for the CIA coup was over the country nationalizing the oil fields and refineries. That was like waving a red cape in front of a bull. The US has shown a remarkable desire to go to war over oil as Iraq has illustrated. They didn’t mind destroying a democracy to get its way. They of course were joined by Britain. So the US really has no moral high ground when it comes to the coup and CIA publishing of the sorry affair probably attests to that. They use the excuse they were saving Iran from the clutches of Russia, while installing their puppet so that Iran would be in the clutches of the US instead. So outside of declaring war on the US and Britain, the Iranians had little choice because the US wouldn’t give up on getting what it wanted.

All the Americans remember is the hostage crises, not the US destroying democracy in Iran. A more subtle, nuanced approach might well be that we should pay attention to current Iranian politics, rather than hand-wringing about Mossadegh (on the left) or zero-sum chest-thumping (on the right). In a wider context though the events of 1953 make clear this, that the procedure for securing U.S. corporate interest without deference to common morality used in Iran in 1953 has since been utilized across Central and South America, Africa and more recently in Eastern Europe (i.e. Ukraine). Elected government would be well advised to develop methods to defeat these methodologies and it’s past variations.


This article was written by Saurav Dutt for American Herald Tribune on Aug 18, 2016. Saurav Dutt is the Guardian Books and LA Times Book short-listed British author of fiction and nonfiction works. He wrote for The Guardian, The Independent; he is a novelist, independent film producer, playwright, screenwriter, graphic design illustrator and above all, an accomplished author and writer.