Mohammed Mossadegh

Mohammed Mossadegh (Persian: محمد مصدق), (May 19, 1882 - March 4, 1967) was prime minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953. Mossadegh's name is sometimes spelled Mosaddeq, which better reflects the Persian pronounciation. He was removed from power by the Shah of Iran and pro-monarchy forces in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies.


Premier Mossadegh

After being educated in England, Mohammed Mossadegh got his start in Iranian politics in 1914, when he was appointed Governor General of the Iranian province of Fars by Shah Soltan Ahmad Qajar. He was later appointed finance minister and then foreign minister. In 1923 he was elected to the Iranian parliament (Majlis) but resigned shortly after, following the election of Reza Pahlavi as shah.

By 1944 Reza Pahlavi had abdicated, and Mossadegh was once again elected to parliament. This time he ran as a member of the National Front Party, a nationalist organization with socialist leanings that aimed to end the foreign presence that had established itself in Iran following the Second World War, especially regarding the exploitation of Iran's rich oil resources.

After negotiations for higher oil royalties failed, on March 15, 1951 the Iran parliament (the Majlis) voted to nationalize Iran's oil industry, and seize control of the British-owned and operated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Prime minister General Ali Razmara, elected in June 1950, had opposed the nationalization bill on technical grounds. He was asssassinated on March 7, 1951 by Khalil Tahmasebi, a member of the militant fundamentalist group Fadayan-e Islam. After street protests and under pressure from the Majlis, the Shah appointed Mossadegh, a prominent supporter of oil nationalization, as new prime minister.

Responding to the seizure of the AIOC, the British government announced it would not allow Mossadegh's government to export any oil produced in the formerly British-controlled factories. A blockade of British ships was sent to the Persian Gulf to prevent any attempts by Iran to ship any oil out of the country. An economic stalemate thus ensued, with Mossadegh's government refusing to allow any British involvement in Iran's oil industry, and Britain refusing to allow any oil to leave Iran.

Since Britain had long been Iran's primary oil-consumer, the stalemate was paticularly hard on Iran. While the country had once boasted over a 100 million dollars a year in exports to Britain, after nationalization, the same oil industry began increasing Iran's debt by nearly 10 million dollars a month.

Despite the economic hardships of his nationalization plan, Mossadegh remained popular, and in 1952 was approved by parliament for a second term. Sensing the difficulties of a worsening political and economic climate, he announced that he would request the Shah grant him emergency powers. Thus, during the royal approval of his new cabinet, Mossadegh casually asked the Shah to grant him full control of the military, and Ministry of War. The Shah refused, and Mossadegh announced his resignation.

Ahmed Qavam was appointed as Iran's new prime minister. On the day of his appointment, he announced his intention to resume negotiations with the British to end the oil dispute. This blatant reversal of Mossadegh's plans sparked a massive public outrage. Protestors of all stripes filled the streets, including communists and radical Muslims led by Ayatollah Kashani. Frightened by the unrest, the Shah quickly dismissed Qavam, and re-appointed Mossadegh, granting him the full control of the military he had previously requested.

Taking advantage of his atmosphere of popularity, Mossadegh convinced the parliament to grant him increased powers and appointed Ayatollah Kashani as house speaker. Kashani's radical Muslims, as well as the Iranian Communist Party, proved to be two of Mossadegh's key political allies, although both relationships were often strained.

Mossadegh quickly implemented more socialist reforms. Iran's centuries old feudal agriculture sector was abolished, and replaced with a system of collective farming and government land ownership.

Plot against Mossadegh

The governments of Britain and the United States grew increasingly distressed over Mossadegh's reforms. Publicly, they denounced his policies as harmful to the country; privately, both governments sought to implement lucrative oil contracts, but Mossadegh refused. Mossadegh's socialist reforms and increasingly close partnership with the Iranian Communist Party also prompted fears that Iran may develop closer ties with the neighbouring Soviet Union.

In October of 1952, Mossadegh declared that Britain was "an enemy", and cut all diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. In November and December 1952, British intelligence officials suggested to American intelligence that the prime minister should be ousted. The new US administration under Dwight Eisenhower and the British government under Winston Churchill agreed to work together toward Mossadegh's removal.

On April 4, 1953, US CIA director Allen W. Dulles approved $1 million to be used "in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh". Soon the CIA's Tehran station started to launch a propaganda compaign against Mossadegh. Finally, according to the New York Times:

In early June, American and British intelligence officials met again, this time in Beirut, and put the finishing touches on the strategy. Soon afterward, the chief of the CIA's Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in Tehran to direct it.

The plot, known as Operation Ajax, centered around convincing Iran's monarch to use his constitutional authority to dismiss Mossadegh from office, as he had attempted some months earlier. But the Shah was uncooperative, and it would take much persuasion and many meetings to successfully execute the plan. Meanwhile, the CIA stepped up its operations. According to Dr. Donald N. Wilber, who was involved in the plot to remove Mossadegh from power, in early August, Iranian CIA operatives pretending to be socialists threatened Muslim leaders with "savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh," thereby giving the impression that Mossadegh was cracking down on dissent, and stirring anti-Mossadegh sentiments within the religious community.

Mossadegh became aware of the plots against him and grew increasingly wary of conspirators acting within his government. He set up a national referendum to dissolve parliament. The vote was clearly rigged, with Mossadegh claiming a 99.9 percent victory for the "yes" side. This was in turn cited by US- and British-funded opposition press as a reason to remove Mossadegh from power. Parliament was suspended indefinitely, and Mossadegh's "emergency powers" were extended.

To prevent the plot from succeeding Mossadegh knew he would have to continue consolidating his power. Since Iran's monarch was the only person who constitutionally outranked him, he perceived Iran's 33-year-old king to be his biggest threat. In August of 1952 Mossadegh attempted to convince the Shah to leave the country. The Shah refused, and fired the Prime Minister, in accordance with the foreign intelligence plan. Mossadegh responded by ordering troops to seize the Imperial palace and drive out the king. Eager to avoid conflict, the Shah once again quickly folded, and accompanied by his wife, quickly fled Iran.

Once again, massive protests broke out across the nation. Anti- and pro-monarchy protestors violently clashed in the streets, leaving almost 300 dead. Aided by the U.S. CIA and British MI5, the pro-monarchy forces quickly gained the upper hand, stormed government offices and ransacked the prime minister's official residence. Mossadegh surrendered, and was arrested on August 19, 1953.

General Fazlollah Zahedi, who had been the CIA's original choice to replace Mossadegh, proclaimed himself as the new prime minister. The Shah himself, who by now was living a comfortable exile in Italy, was rushed back to Iran and returned to the throne. His overthrow and subsequent restoration to power had all occurred within a week.

Mossadegh was tried for treason, and sentenced to three years in prison. Following his release he remained under house arrest until his death in 1967. The new government under the Shah in August 1954 reached an agreement with foreign oil companies to "restore the flow of Iranian oil to world markets in substantial quantities" [1].

The extent of the US role in Mossadegh's overthrow was not formally aknowledged for many years, although the Eisenhower administration was quite vocal in its opposition to the policies of the ousted Iranian Prime Minister. In his memoirs, Eisenhower writes angrily about Mossadegh, and describes him as impractical and naive, though stops short of admitting any overt involvement in the coup.

Eventually the CIA's role became well-known, and caused controversy within the organization itself, and within the CIA congressional hearings of the 1970s. Die-hard CIA supporters maintain that the plot against Mossadegh was stragetically necessary, and praise the efficiency of agents in carrying out the plan. Critics say the scheme was paranoid and colonial.

When the Iranian revolution occurred in 1980, the overthrow of Mossadegh was used as a rallying point in anti-US protests. To this day, Mossadegh's image in Iran is mixed. His secularism and western manners have made official government praise mild at best in the now fundamentalist theocratic state. Yet many others still view him as a victim of US aggression.

In March 2000, then secretary of state Madeleine Albright stated her regret that Mossadegh was ousted: "The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America."

Mossadegh had a flamboyant personality and was well-known for theatrics, including weeping, fainting, and napping in public. His numerous eccentricities, such as wearing his bathrobe in parliament made him a well-known figure. His controversial actions captured the attention of the world, and he was named as Time Magazine's 1951 Man of the Year.

In early 2004, they Egyptian government changed a street name in Cairo from Pahlavi to Mossadegh, to faciliate closer relations with Iran.

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