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Remembering Mosaddeq

by?rahnuma ahmed

Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1951-1953), popular and democratically-elected, overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and MI6 because he wanted to nationalise Iranian oil

The anniversary’s just around the corner, for the regime of Dr Mohammad Mosaddeq — popular and democratically-elected prime minister of Iran — was toppled by the CIA-MI6 on August 19, 1953. The military coup returned the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to power. A brutal dictatorship, not acknowledged as such by the US, UK and other western powers because he had served their interests.
Media interest (both mainstream and alternative) in CIA involvement was revived with the publication of the CIA’s official history of the 1953 coup in The New York Times on April 16, 2000.
Media interest in British Petroleum was re-ignited a decade later, after the BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The CIA, as Tim Weiner in a New York Times (NYT) article noted, had repeatedly pledged to make public the files of its secret mission, as part of the CIA’s “openness” initiatives. But — apparently unknown to James Woolsey, CIA director — all classified documents regarding the overthrow of the Mosaddeq government had either been destroyed or lost during the 1960s (“C.I.A. Destroyed Files on 1953 Iran Coup,” May 29, 1997).
However, a 200-page document — “essentially an after action report” written in March 1954 by Dr. Donald N. Wilber, one of the “leading planners” of the coup besides being an expert in Persian architecture — was given by a former CIA official to the NYT, which was released by the daily on its internet site in April and June 2000. The CIA then acknowledged that about a thousand pages of documentation exist, locked in the agency’s vaults.
Initially, the NYT released a summary and four appendixes saying that a full release might lead to “retribution” for CIA’s Iranian agents; later, it released the full report after digitally blacking out names of Iranian agents. However, the devoted efforts of enterprising Web users led to revealing some of the hidden text, leading NYT to use a more fool-proof redaction method (Malcolm Byrne, “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953“). Various versions, some more ?revealing than others, are currently available on the internet.
Journalistic investigations into the BP post-oil spill, have revealed not only a total disregard for safety rules, but also, millions of dollars spent lobbying Congress to “prevent regulation” (DemocracyNow, May 6, 20120).
The BP oil spill sparked activist protests as well. A group called Good Crude Britannia spilled gallons of mock crude oil covered with bird-like feathers outside London’s Tate Gallery, protesting against its acceptance of BP sponsorship (LA Times Blogs, June 29, 2010).
BP, a British multinational oil and gas company, the third-largest energy company in the world, also enjoys partnerships with the British Museum, the Royal Opera House, the National Portrait Gallery, the Almeida Theatre, the National Maritime Museum and the Science and Natural History Museums.
In a letter to The Guardian dated June 28, 2010, leading artists and cultural figures protested against the “social legitimacy” which high-profile cultural organisations such as Tate Gallery bestow on big oil companies by entering into partnerships. They distract attention from their “impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate.”
True, but no mention of Mosaddeq and BP’s role in the 1953 coup. An oversight? Or, a callous indifference about the nation’s imperial history, one which continues in the present?
What did Wilber’s history reveal of operation TPAJAX? When the question was put to professor Mark Gasiorowski, a scholar widely acknowledged for his dedication in uncovering the truth about events surrounding the 1953 coup (author, US Foreign Policy and the Shah: Building a Client State in Iran, 1991; co-editor with Byrne, Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, 2004), he stressed the following, telling, points:
1) The primary US motive in carrying out the coup was geo-strategic; oil was secondary.
2) The evidence strongly indicates, says Gasiorowski, that the British military intelligence agency (MI6 was then SIS, Secret Intelligence Service) “clearly deferred to the CIA” in planning and executing AJAX; it paid part of the costs; its most important contribution to the coup was loaning their main agents in Iran, the Rashidian brothers, to the CIA team.
3) Four months prior to the coup, the CIA made $1 million available to the Tehran CIA station to undermine Mosaddeq; evidence indicates that the money was used to help general Mohammad Fazlollah Zahedi (who became prime minister after Mosaddeq’s ouster) to bribe military people and others and, to carry out covert operations. Since Zahedi had no military organisation of his own, the CIA developed one for him; also, a military secretariat since he failed to designate one. Zahedi and most other titular leaders were hidden in CIA safehouses or the American embassy compound while most of the coup was carried out. Appendix D indicates, says Gasiorowski, that, “Essentially all of the planning of the military details of the coup was done by the CIA”; Iranian military officers largely distrusted each other and had little command experience.
4) Initially, the CIA had planned to bribe members of Iran’s parliament to vote Mosaddeq out of office, to enlist prominent Iranian clergymen to create disturbances which would ease in the coup. The CIA station was authorised to spend $11,000 per week to bribe MPs, but this did not materialise as Mosaddeq closed down the parliament. Eventually, clerical figures refused to cooperate with the coup-makers, except for the son of a cleric who broadcast pro-Shah messages over Tehran radio on August 19.
5) The CIA plan largely concentrated on using propaganda and other covert methods to undermine Mosaddeq in the weeks before the coup, such as, creating friction between Mosaddeq and the clergy to turn the latter against him. A sum of $150,000 was allocated for this, and other destabilisation efforts. The first coup attempt, on the nights of August 15th-16th failed; the second time round, when Musaddeq denounced firmans (royal decrees) signed by the Shah which dismissed him and appointed Zahedi as the prime minister to be a forgery, the information was quickly published in The New York Times and elsewhere.
6) The CIA loaned $45,000 to the editor of an unidentified newspaper; Gasirowski thinks it might have been the Ettelaat, the only newspaper to be “worth this much money.”
7) The initial coup attempt failed because some of the Iranian participants exposed it, probably the Tudeh Party (the Iranian communist party), possibly because it had penetrated the government’s “communications system.”
8) The CIA’s two principle agents code named Nerren and Cilley played key roles in the coup; they carried out ‘black’ propaganda, such as, making Iranians think the Shah was being overthrown; fabricating and publishing an interview of Zahedi; arranging for agents provocateurs to organise ‘fake’ Tudeh demonstrations which ransacked the offices of the Pan-Iranist Party and created general havoc in Tehran; Nerren and Cilley helped lead crowds on August 19, inciting them to burn newspaper offices, persuading army units to join the crowd.
9) The August 19th morning demonstrations, which eventually led to Mosaddeq’s overthrow were acknowledged by Wilber to be “partially spontaneous” but also partially organised by the CIA team. Wilber wrote derogatorily of the Iranians, “the recognized incapacity of Iranians to plan or act in a thoroughly logical manner”, “rather long-winded and often illogical Persians.”
10) The CIA history warned of a possible “blowback” later, i.e., violent, unintended consequences of a covert operation.
This, says Gasiorowski, “certainly was a prescient warning of the events that began to unfold 25 years later.” In other words, of the popular uprising against the Shah in 1979, which established religious rule in Iran.
A regime which western powers led by the US and Israel at present seek to topple. For which covert operations, accompanied by economic sanctions are going on in full swing.
If the US motive was “geo-strategic”, as Gasiorowski and a host of other scholars insist, what was the British motive?
Published in New Age, Monday, August 13, 2012

Published inCorruptionEnergyexploitationImperialismmediaMilitaryOilRahnuma AhmedUSA


  1. Great article, and critiques of ‘environmental’ groups that decline to acknowledge the ongoing impacts of Empire are very well founded. I wanted to flag up that the groups who are behind a lot of the work on BP’s sponsorship of art galleries touched on this aspect of BP’s shady history in the Tate a Tate audio tour – an alternate audio tour designed to be listened to in the gallery spaces that crtically examines BP’s presence. Part three of the tour inside Tate Modern talks about the coup in Iran. You can download or listen to the tour at www,

  2. that this is ignored by western campaigns against BP etc is a critical issue and will hopefully gain some challenge by Virtual Migrants later this year
    – see the posting of this article at and at the virtualmigrants facebook page.

  3. Another excellent article by Rahnuma Ahmed connecting BP oil corruption with the CIA-MI6 intrusion into Iran in 1953 where they overthrew the democratic regime led by then Prime Minister Dr Mosaddeq and replaced it with their puppet dictator. One of the points made by Ahmed relates to the current challenges to BP by artists and activists about:
    “…the ?social legitimacy? which high-profile cultural organisations such as Tate Gallery bestow on big oil companies by entering into partnerships. They distract attention from their ?impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate.? True, but no mention of Mosaddeq and BP?s role in the 1953 coup. An oversight? Or, a callous indifference about the nation?s imperial history, one which continues in the present?”
    This seems like one very clear example of UK climate activists focusing on issues that can more easily win support from their ‘obvious’ sympathetic contingents, yet ignore the hard political edges of imperialism. Is this something Virtual Migrants might pursue with the forthcoming book release of “The Oil Road” by Platform?

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