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The Build Up To War In Iran Is Operation Ajax All Over Again

Operation Ajax – In 1953 the CIA staged a False Flag coup that overthrew the government of Iran and to replace Iran’s Anglo-Persian oil company ...

by Alexander Higgins

This article was created after thorough research and has been improved with the assistance of AI technology. Furthermore, our dedicated editorial team has meticulously fact-checked and polished its content for accuracy and clarity.


Operation Ajax – In 1953 the CIA staged a False Flag coup that overthrew the government of Iran and to replace Iran’s Anglo-Persian oil company with 5 US oil companies.

As the US and its allies continue to build up the pretext for a war with Iran, the events unfolding are history repeating itself all over again.

As the news headlines we read today become more and more unmistakeably similar to Operation Ajax.

The replacement of Iran’s Anglo-Persian Oil Company with five American oil companies and the 1953 Iranian coup d’état was the consequence of the U.S. and British-orchestrated false flag operation, Operation Ajax. Operation Ajax used political intrigue, propaganda, and agreements with Qashqai tribal leaders to depose the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. Information regarding the CIA-sponsored coup d’etat has been largely declassified and is available in the CIA archives.

Source: Wikipeda – False Flags As A Pretext For War

It is important to learn about the history between the west and Iran because the Iran been the center stage in the battle for complete world domination between Russia and and the west for centuries.

At its core Operation Ajax was authorized directly by the President and was directed by CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt and involved covert operations, US ambassadors, direct military support all of which was done in coordination with the British.

More importantly, the prelude to war that is unfolding before our very eyes today traces directly back to Operation Ajax which culminated with the United States and Britain installing a ruthless dictator in order take over Iran’s oil supplies and turn Iran into a satellite of the United States government.

During the operation we saw an embargo against Iran, loads of anti-Iranian propaganda in the Press, CIA backed assassinations, CIA trained guerrilla forces conducting operations all of which culminated with the CIA sending General Major Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr to escort out newly installed puppet dictator to his knew throne of power.

Coincidentally, this general is t he father of the the General who lead the first Iraq Invasion and the same man who trained the guerrillas to secure our newly installed puppet dictator’s powers.

After nearly 30 years of shocking horrible human rights abuses by the United State’s puppet dictator, which our media doesn’t like to mention, the Iranians staged popular revolution and took their country back in 1979.

It didn’t take long for the United States to fight back, forcing Iraq into a invading Iran in 1980s and covertly funding and supporting the invasion all the way up until 1989.

Not surprisingly, after Saddam through in the towel in a series of events leads the United States to invade Iraq for the first time during the Persian Gulf war.

We then again invaded Iraq in 2003 and took over their oil on the fall pretense of nuclear weapons of mass destruction and as we wind down that war our attention yet again returns to Iran.

As we look to handle the our unfinished business in Iran – ultimately to undo the revolution that undid operation Ajax – the CIA is using the nearly the same exact playbook that was used during Operation Ajax.

It was successful the first time so why not do it again?

There are a few differences however.

In World War II the Allies invaded Iran to secure its oil for their war machine because Iran’s oil is obviously an important strategic asset for any War machine.

In the aftermath of the War and some post-war meddling by the Russians, the British ended up with a highly exploitative ‘agreement’.

The Agreement basically gave the British complete control over Iran’s oil while giving the Iranians next to nothing in exchange.

Making matters worse is while the people of Iran suffered financially the British refused even to allow an audit to assure they were paying the Iranian’s the amount outlined in the agreement.

This naturally led to the spread of nationalist sentiment in Iran – people will only allow themselves to be exploited beyond a certain point for a certain period of time before nationalism arises and if the politicians in power ignore the nationalist sentiment they find themselves dealing with a full blown revolution.

Great Britain, instead of negotiating fair terms launched a propaganda campaign that the Iranians were going to harm the people of the world as a whole by forcing a fair agreement and refused to budge on renegotiating the deal.

Left with the choice of nationalizing their oil or dealing with a populist revolution, the Iranian’s chose to nationalize their oil period and kick the British the hell out (for those following the news Argentina’s president has just done the same thing by nationalizing their largest oil company kicking the Spaniards out – albeit under different circumstances as we are told by the corporate media – so watch for a coup their within the next few years).

Prior to the commencement of the coup, the United States became the middle man to broker negotiations between Iran and Britain because the publicly the United States was pretending to be opposed Britain’s policy against Iran and were trusted to be a fair mediator (this was likely to do with the ending of Britain’s control of Saudi oil at that time which was really done to give the US more control).

But the gun-boat diplomacy the American’s publicly stated they were against was being planned behind with the British with participation in the plot going all the way up to the US Ambassador.

It involved several classical propaganda hall-marks that we see today, except instead of brown men who wear funny clothes (Islamic Fundamentalists) being blamed in the 50′s it was the big bad red communists (The Russian Bloc).

In the build up to the coup, during the coup, and after its now known that US corporate media ran several propaganda pieces for the CIA to build up the environment required and to justify the actions of the US and Britain.

For example prior to Operation Ajax, Iran had a democracy in place, which the New York Times reported as:

“A plebiscite more fantastic and farcical than any ever held under Hitler or Stalin is now being staged in Iran by Premier Mossadegh in an effort to make himself unchallenged dictator of the country.”[98]

Yet after the commencement of the coup, an totalitarian dictator was actually installed – albeit a US puppet – of which the NY Times wrote:

“Costly as the dispute over Iranian oil has been to all concerned, the affair may yet be proved worthwhile if lessons are learned from it: Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism. It is perhaps too much to hope that Iran’s experience will prevent the rise of Mossadeghs in other countries, but that experience may at least strengthen the hands of more reasonable and more far-seeing leaders.”[97]


“The great mass of the Iranian people are doubtless behind the Shah in his bold new reform efforts. The national plebiscite he called early this year gave emphatic evidence of this.”[99]

To give you a sense of just how bad the propaganda was.:

United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who visited Iran both before and after the coup, wrote that “When Mossadegh and Persia started basic reforms, we became alarmed. We united with the British to destroy him; we succeeded; and ever since, our name has not been an honored one in the Middle East.”[113]

And the CIA website now openly reveals on their site (article fully reprinted below):

“The world has paid a heavy price for the lack of democracy in most of the Middle East. Operation Ajax taught tyrants and aspiring tyrants that the world’s most powerful governments were willing to tolerate limitless oppression as long as oppressive regimes were friendly to the West and to Western oil companies. That helped tilt the political balance in a vast region away from freedom and toward dictatorship.”[111] The United States initially considered the coup to be a triumph of Cold War covert action, but given its blowback, Kinzer wrote that it is difficult to imagine an outcome “that would have produced as much pain and horror over the next half century as that produced by Operation Ajax” had “American and British intelligence officers not meddled so shamelessly in (Iran”s) domestic affairs.”[112]

More recently however the NY Times has more been critical of the CIA in regard to the coup:

In the summer of 2001, Ervand Abrahamian wrote in the journal Science & Society that Wilber’s version of the coup was missing key information some of which was available elsewhere.

The New York Times recently leaked a CIA report on the 1953 American-British overthrow of Mosaddeq, Iran’s Prime Minister. It billed the report as a secret history of the secret coup, and treated it as an invaluable substitute for the U.S. files that remain inaccessible. But a reconstruction of the coup from other sources, especially from the archives of the British Foreign Office, indicates that this report is highly sanitized. It glosses over such sensitive issues as the crucial participation of the U.S. ambassador in the actual overthrow; the role of U.S. military advisers; the harnessing of local Nazis and Muslim terrorists; and the use of assassinations to destabilize the government. What is more, it places the coup in the context of the Cold War rather than that of the Anglo-Iranian oil crisis—a classic case of nationalism clashing with imperialism in the Third World. [104]

Directly from the CIA’s Center For Intelligence Studies:

All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror

Intelligence in Recent Public Literature

By Stephen Kinzer. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2003. 258 pages.

Reviewed by David S. Robarge

At an NSC meeting in early 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower said “it was a matter of great distress to him that we seemed unable to get some of these down-trodden countries to like us instead of hating us.”1 The problem has likewise distressed all administrations since, and is emerging as the core conundrum of American policy in Iraq. In All the Shah’s Men, Stephen Kinzer of the New York Times suggests that the explanation may lie next door in Iran, where the CIA carried out its first successful regime-change operation over half a century ago. The target was not an oppressive Soviet puppet but a democratically elected government whose populist ideology and nationalist fervor threatened Western economic and geopolitical interests. The CIA’s covert intervention—codenamed TPAJAX—preserved the Shah’s power and protected Western control of a hugely lucrative oil infrastructure. It also transformed a turbulent constitutional monarchy into an absolutist kingship and induced a succession of unintended consequences at least as far ahead as the Islamic revolution of 1979—and, Kinzer argues in his breezily written, well-researched popular history, perhaps to today.

British colonialism faced its last stand in 1951 when the Iranian parliament nationalized the sprawling Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) after London refused to modify the firm’s exploitative concession. “[B]y a series of insensate actions,” the British replied with prideful stubbornness, “the Iranian Government is causing a great enterprise, the proper functioning of which is of immense benefit not only to the United Kingdom and Iran but to the whole free world, to grind to a stop. Unless this is promptly checked, the whole of the free world will be much poorer and weaker, including the deluded Iranian people themselves.”2 Of that attitude, Dean Acheson, the secretary of state at the time, later wrote: “Never had so few lost so much so stupidly and so fast.”3 But the two sides were talking past each other. The Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, was “a visionary, a utopian, [and] a millenarian” who hated the British, writes Kinzer. “You do not know how crafty they are,” Mossadeq told an American envoy sent to broker the impasse. “You do not know how evil they are. You do not know how they sully everything they touch.”4

The Truman administration resisted the efforts of some British arch-colonialists to use gunboat diplomacy, but elections in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1951 and 1952 tipped the scales decisively toward intervention. After the loss of India, Britain’s new prime minster, Winston Churchill, was committed to stopping his country’s empire from unraveling further. Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, were dedicated to rolling back communism and defending democratic governments threatened by Moscow’s machinations. In Iran’s case, with diplomacy having failed and a military incursion infeasible (the Korean War was underway), they decided to take care of “that madman Mossadeq”5 through a covert action under the supervision of the secretary of state’s brother, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles.6 (Oddly, considering the current scholarly consensus that Eisenhower was in masterful control of his administration, Kinzer depicts him as beguiled by a moralistic John Foster and a cynical Allen.) Directing the operation was the CIA’s charming and resourceful man in Tehran, Kermit Roosevelt, an OSS veteran, Arabist, chief of Middle East operations, and inheritor of some of his grandfather Theodore’s love of adventure.

The CIA’s immediate target was Mossadeq, whom the Shah had picked to run the government just before the parliament voted to nationalize the AIOC. A royal-blooded eccentric given to melodrama and hypochondria, Mossadeq often wept during speeches, had fits and swoons, and conducted affairs of state from bed wearing wool pajamas. During his visit to the United States in October 1951, Newsweek labeled him the “Fainting Fanatic” but also observed that, although most Westerners at first dismissed him as “feeble, senile, and probably a lunatic,” many came to regard him as “an immensely shrewd old man with an iron will and a flair for self-dramatization.”7Time recognized his impact on world events by naming him its “Man of the Year” in 1951.

Mossadeq is Kinzer’s paladin—in contrast to the schemers he finds in the White House and Whitehall—but the author does subject him to sharp criticism. He points out, for example, that Mossadeq’s ideology blinded him to opportunities to benefit both himself and the Iranian people: “The single-mindedness with which he pursued his campaign against [the AIOC] made it impossible for him to compromise when he could and should have.”8 In addition, Mossadeq failed at a basic test of statecraft—trying to understand other leaders’ perspectives on the world. By ignoring the anticommunist basis of US policy, he wrenched the dispute with the AIOC out of its Cold War context and saw it only from his parochial nationalist viewpoint. Lastly, Mossadeq’s naïvete about communist tactics led him to ignore the Tudeh Party’s efforts to penetrate and control Iranian institutions. He seemed almost blithely unaware that pro-Soviet communists had taken advantage of democratic systems to seize power in parts of Eastern Europe. By not reining in Iran’s communists, he fell on Washington’s enemies list. Kinzer throws this fair-minded assessment off kilter, however, with a superfluous epilogue about his pilgrimage to Mossadeq’s hometown. Intended to be evocative, the chapter sounds maudlin and contributes little to either an understanding of the coup or Kinzer’s speculations about its relevance today.

Kinzer is at his journalistic best when—drawing on published sources, declassified documents, interviews, and a bootleg copy of a secret Agency history of the operation9—he reconstructs the day-to-day running of TPAJAX. The plan comprised propaganda, provocations, demonstrations, and bribery, and employed agents of influence, “false flag” operatives, dissident military leaders, and paid protestors. The measure of success seemed easy enough to gauge—”[a]ll that really mattered was that Tehran be in turmoil,” writes Kinzer. The design, which looked good on paper, failed on its first try, however, and succeeded largely through happenstance and Roosevelt’s nimble improvisations. No matter how meticulously scripted a covert action may be, the “fog of war” affects it as readily as military forces on a battlefield. Roosevelt may have known that already—he and his confreres chose as the project’s unofficial anthem a song from the musical Guys and Dolls: “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”10

TPAJAX had its surreal and offbeat moments. Kinzer describes Roosevelt calmly lunching at a colleague’s house in the embassy compound while “[o]utside, Tehran was in upheaval. Cheers and rhythmic chants echoed through the air, punctuated by the sound of gunfire and exploding mortar shells. Squads of soldiers and police surged past the embassy gate every few minutes. Yet Roosevelt’s host and his wife were paragons of discretion, asking not a single question about what was happening.” To set the right mood just before Washington’s chosen coup leader, a senior army general named Fazlollah Zahedi, spoke to the nation on the radio, US officials decided to broadcast some military music. Someone found an appropriate-looking record in the embassy library and put on the first song; to everyone’s embarrassment, it was “The Star-Spangled Banner.” A less politically discordant tune was quickly played, and then Zahedi took the microphone to declare himself “the lawful prime minister by the Shah’s order.” Mossadeq was sentenced to prison and then lifetime internal exile.11

The Shah—who reluctantly signed the decrees removing Mossadeq from office and installing Zahedi, thereby giving the coup a constitutional patina—had fled Iran during the crucial latter days of the operation. When he heard of the successful outcome from his refuge in Rome, he leapt to his feet and cried out, “I knew it! They love me!”12 That serious misreading of his subjects’ feeling toward him showed that he was out of touch already. Seated again on the Peacock Throne, the insecure and vain Shah forsook the opportunity to introduce constitutional reforms that had been on the Iranian people’s minds for decades. Instead, he became a staunch pro-Western satrap with grandiose pretensions. He forced the country into the 20th century economically and socially but ruled like a pre-modern despot, leaving the mosques as the only outlet for dissent. Although the next 25 years of stability that he imposed brought the United States an intelligence payoff the price was dependence on local liaison for information about internal developments. The intelligence gap steadily widened, and Washington was caught by surprise when the Khomeini-inspired Islamist revolution occurred in February 1979.

That takeover, according to Kinzer, links the 51-year-old coup with recent and current terrorism.

With their devotion to radical Islam and their eagerness to embrace even the most horrific kinds of violence, Iran’s revolutionary leaders became heroes to fanatics in many countries. Among those who were inspired by their example were Afghans who founded the Taliban, led it to power in Kabul, and gave Osama bin-Laden the base from which he launched devastating terror attacks. It is not far-fetched to draw a line from Operation Ajax through the Shah’s repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York.13

This conclusion, however, requires too many historical jumps, exculpates several presidents who might have pressured the Shah to institute reforms, and overlooks conflicts between the Shia theocracy in Tehran and Sunni extremists in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Kinzer would have been better off making a less sweeping judgment: that TPAJAX got the CIA into the regime-change business for good—similar efforts would soon follow in Guatemala, Indonesia, and Cuba—but that the Agency has had little success at that enterprise, while bringing itself and the United States more political ill will, and breeding more untoward results, than any other of its activities.14 Most of the CIA’s acknowledged efforts of this sort have shown that Washington has been more interested in strongman rule in the Middle East and elsewhere than in encouraging democracy. The result is a credibility problem that accompanied American troops into Iraq and continues to plague them as the United States prepares to hand over sovereignty to local authorities. All the Shah’s Men helps clarify why, when many Iraqis heard President George Bush concede that “[s]ixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe,”15 they may have reacted with more than a little skepticism.


1. “Memorandum of Discussion at the 135th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, March 4, 1953,” US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954, Volume X, Iran, 1951-1954 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1989), 699.

2. Kinzer, p. 121, quoting the British delegate to the UN Security Council, Gladwyn Jebb.

3. Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969), 503.

4. Vernon A. Walters, Silent Missions (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 247.

5. John Foster Dulles, quoted in Kermit Roosevelt, Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 8.

6. The British had a covert action against Mossadeq in train until he expelled all British diplomats (including undercover intelligence officers) in October 1952. As Kinzer describes, members of MI-6 collaborated with CIA officers in drawing up the TPAJAX operational plan.

7. Kinzer, 120.

8.Ibid., 206-7.

9. Details of the Agency history were publicized in James Risen, “How a Plot Convulsed Iran in ’53 (and ’79),” New York Times, 16 April 2000, 1, 16-17. Lightly redacted versions of the history are posted on two Web sites:
the New York Times at www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-index.html; and the National Security Archive’s at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/index.html.

10. Kinzer, 175, 211, 13.

11.Ibid., 181, 183-84.

12.Ibid., 184.

13.Ibid., 203-4.

14. Such is the theme of Kinzer’s previous venture (with Stephen Schlesinger) into covert action history, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, Anchor Books ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1990), wherein the authors ask, “Was Operation SUCCESS [in Guatemala] necessary and did it really advance US interests, in the long range and in the aggregate?” (xiii).

15. David E. Sanger, “Bush Asks Lands in Mideast to Try Democratic Ways,” New York Times, 7 November 2003: A1.

Dr. David S. Robarge, is a member of CIA’s History Staff. This article is unclassified in its entirety.

Historical Document
Posted: Apr 14, 2007 08:15 PM
Last Updated: Jun 27, 2008 06:54 AM
Last Reviewed: Apr 14, 2007 08:15 PM

Source: CIA

More on Operation Ajax:

1953 Iranian coup d’état

The 1953 Iranian coup d’état (known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup[3]) was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and the United States under the name TPAJAX Project.[4] The coup saw the transition of Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi from a constitutional monarch to an authoritarian one who relied heavily on United States support to hold on to power until his own overthrow in February 1979.[5]

In 1951, Iran’s oil industry was nationalized with near-unanimous support of Iran’s parliament in a bill introduced by Mossadegh who led the nationalist parliamentarian faction. Iran’s oil had been controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), now known as BP.[6] Popular discontent with the AIOC began in the late 1940s, a large segment of Iran’s public and a number of politicians saw the company as exploitative and a vestige of British imperialism.[7] Despite Mosaddegh’s popular support, Britain was unwilling to negotiate its single most valuable foreign asset, and instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil to pressure Iran economically.[8] Initially, Britain mobilized its military to seize control of the Abadan oil refinery, the world’s largest, but Prime Minister Clement Attlee opted instead to tighten the economic boycott[9] while using Iranian agents to undermine Mosaddegh’s government.[10] With a change to more conservative governments in both Britain and the United States, Churchill and the U.S. Eisenhower administration decided to overthrow Iran’s government though the predecessor U.S. Truman administration had opposed a coup.[11] Classified documents show British intelligence officials played a pivotal role in initiating and planning the coup, and that Washington and London shared an interest in maintaining control over Iranian oil.[12]

Britain and the U.S. selected Fazlollah Zahedi to be the prime minister of a military government that was to replace Mosaddegh’s government. Subsequently, a royal decree dismissing Mosaddegh and appointing Zahedi was drawn up by the coup plotters and signed by the Shah. The Central Intelligence Agency had successfully pressured the weak monarch to participate in the coup, while bribing street thugs, clergy, politicians and Iranian army officers to take part in a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh and his government.[13] At first, the coup appeared to be a failure when on the night of 15–16 August, Imperial Guard Colonel Nematollah Nassiri was arrested while attempting to arrest Mosaddegh. The Shah fled the country the next day. On 19 August, a pro-Shah mob, paid by the CIA, marched on Mosaddegh’s residence.[14] According to the CIA’s declassified documents and records, some of the most feared mobsters in Tehran were hired by the CIA to stage pro-Shah riots on 19 August. Other CIA-paid men were brought into Tehran in buses and trucks, and took over the streets of the city.[15] Between 300[16] and 800 people were killed during and as a direct result of the conflict.[2] Mosaddegh was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the Shah’s military court. On 21 December 1953, he was sentenced to three years in jail, then placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.[17][18][19] Mosaddegh’s supporters were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured or executed.

After the coup, Pahlavi ruled as an authoritarian monarch for the next 26 years, until he was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1979.[20] The tangible benefits the United States reaped from overthrowing Iran’s elected government included a share of Iran’s oil wealth[21] as well as resolute prevention of the slim possibility that the Iranian government might align itself with the Soviet Union, although the latter motivation produces controversy among historians. Washington continually supplied arms to the unpopular Shah, and the CIA-trained SAVAK, his repressive secret police force. The coup is widely believed to have significantly contributed to anti-American sentiment in Iran and the Middle East. The 1979 Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah and replaced the pro-Western royal dictatorship with the largely anti-WesternIslamic Republic of Iran.[22]

1 Background
1.1 19th century
1.2 Early petroleum development
1.3 Post-World War I
1.4 World War II
1.5 Post-World War II
1.6 1950s
2 U.S. role
2.1 Execution of Operation Ajax
2.2 The coup and CIA records
2.3 U.S. motives
2.4 U.S. media coverage
3 Aftermath
3.1 Blowback
3.2 Iran
3.3 Internationally
4 Historical viewpoint in the Islamic Republic
5 See also
6 Footnotes
7 Books
8 External links

19th century

Throughout the 19th century, Iran was caught between two advancing imperial powers, Russia, which was expanding southward into the Caucasus and central Asia, and Britain, which sought to dominate the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and India. Between 1801 and 1814 Iran signed treaties with Britain and France with an eye toward blocking Russian expansion. After two wars with czarist Russia, from 1804–13 and 1826–28, Iran ceded large tracts of territory to Russia, establishing the modern boundaries between those countries. Britain fought a war with Iran over Afghanistan in 1856–57 after which Afghanistan became independent. In 1892, the British diplomat George Curzon described Iran as “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world.[23]

In 1872, a representative of Baron Paul Reuter, founder of the news agency, met with Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and agreed to fund the Persian monarch’s upcoming lavish visit to Europe in return for broadly worded concessions in Persia,[24] which was the country name through the centuries until 1935 when Reza Shah renamed it Iran. The concession the Shah had given to Reuter was never put into effect because of violent opposition from the Persian people and from Russia. [25]
Early petroleum development
Further information: Anglo-Persian Oil Company

In 1901, Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar, the Shah of Persia, granted a 60-year petroleum search concession to William Knox D’Arcy.[26] D’Arcy paid £20,000, according to journalist-turned-historian Stephen Kinzer, and promised equal ownership shares, with 16% of any future profit.[27] However, the historian L.P. Elwell-Sutton wrote, in 1955, that “Persia’s share was “hardly spectacular” and no money changed hands.

The (Persian) government was promised 20,000 British pounds in cash and 20,000 in shares in the first company to be formed by the concessionaire. In addition it was to receive 16 per cent of the profits made by this or any other company concerned in the concession. As it turned out D’Arcy did not even have to put his hand in his pocket. The First Exploitation Company was duly formed on 21 May 1903, with an issued capital of 500,000 British pounds in 1 pound shares, 30,000 of which were presented to the Shah and 20,000 to other “leading personalities”. The additional 30,000 in shares was felt to be adequate to take the place of the promised 20,000 pounds in cash, and so no cash payment was ever made. The remainder of the shares were issued in London. [28]

On 31 July 1907, D’Arcy withdrew from his private holdings in Persia. “A new agreement was signed under which he transferred to the Burmah Oil Company all his shares in the First Exploitation Company, and with them his last direct interest in the exploitation of oil in Persia.”[29] D’Arcy received 203,067 British pounds in cash (more than ten times what the Persian monarch was supposed to have received in cash for the concession) and D’Arcy received 900,000 shares in the Burmah Oil Company, which the historian Elwell-Sutton declared was “a large sum.”[29]

In early 1908, the British-owned Burmah Oil Company decided to end its exploration for oil in Persia but on 26 May, oil came in at a depth of 1,180 feet (360 m), “a gusher that shot fifty feet or more above the top of the rig,” Elwell-Sutton wrote. “So began the industry that was to see the Royal Navy through two world wars, and to cause Persia more trouble than all the political manoeuvrings of the great powers put together.”[30]

The company grew slowly until World War I, when Persia’s strategic importance led the British government to buy a controlling share in the company, essentially nationalizing British oil production in Iran. It became the Royal Navy’s chief fuel source during the war.[citation needed]

The British angered Iranians by intervening in Iranian domestic affairs including in the Persian Constitutional Revolution (the transition from dynastic to parliamentary government).[31][32][33]
Post-World War I

The Persians were dissatisfied with the royalty terms of the British petroleum concession, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), whereby Persia received 16% of net profits.[34]

In 1921, a military coup d’état—”widely believed to be a British attempt to enforce, at least, the spirit of the Anglo-Persian agreement” effected with the “financial and logistical support of British military personnel”—permitted the political emergence of Reza Pahlavi, whom they enthroned as the “Shah of Iran” in 1925. The Shah modernized Persia to the advantage of the British; one result was the Persian Corridor railroad for British military and civil transport during World War II.[35]

In the 1930s, the Shah tried to terminate the APOC concession, but Britain would not allow it. The concession was renegotiated on terms again favorable to the British. On 21 March 1935, Pahlavi changed the name of the country from Persia to Iran. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was then renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).[36]
World War II

In 1941, after the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the British and Commonwealth of Nations forces and the Red Armyinvaded Iran, to secure petroleum (cf. Persian Corridor) for the Soviet Union‘s effort against the Nazis on the Eastern Front and for the British elsewhere. Britain and the USSR deposed and exiled the pro-Nazi Shah Reza, and enthroned his 22-year-old son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as the Shah of Iran.

The British secured the oilfields and the seaports.[37]

During the war, Iran was used as a conduit for materiel to the USSR. US forces also entered the country replacing the British in operating the southern part of the Trans-Iranian Railway.
Post-World War II

The western Allies withdrew from Iran after the end of the war. The Soviet Union remained and sponsored two “People’s Democratic Republic”s within Iran’s borders. The resulting crisis was resolved through diplomatic efforts in the new United Nations and US support for the Iranian army to reassert control over the breakaway areas. The Soviet-Iranian oil agreement was not ratified.

After the war, nationalist leaders in Iran became influential by seeking a reduction in long-term foreign interventions in their country—especially the oil concession which was very profitable for Britain and not very profitable to Iran. The British-controlled AIOC refused to allow its books to be audited to determine whether the Iranian government was being paid what had been promised. British intransigence irked the Iranian population.

U.S. objectives in the Middle East remained the same between 1947 and 1952 but its strategy changed. Washington remained “publicly in solidarity and privately at odds” with Britain, its World War II ally. Britain’s empire was steadily weakening, and with an eye on international crises, the U.S. re-appraised its interests and the risks of being identified with British colonial interests. “In Saudi Arabia, to Britain’s extreme disapproval, Washington endorsed the arrangement between ARAMCO and Saudi Arabia in the 50/50 accord that had reverberations throughout the region.”[38]

Britain faced the newly elected nationalist government in Iran where Mossadegh, with strong backing of the Iranian parliament, demanded more favorable concessionary arrangements, which Britain vigorously opposed.[38]

The U.S. State Department not only rejected Britain’s demand that it continue to be the primary beneficiary of Iranian oil reserves but “U.S. international oil interests were among the beneficiaries of the concessionary arrangements that followed nationalization.”[39]

U.S. reluctance to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1951, when he was elected, faded 28 months later when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House and John Foster Dulles took the helm at the State Department. “Anglo-American cooperation on that occasion brought down the Iranian prime minister and reinstated a U.S.-backed shah.”[39]

Further information: Abadan Crisis and Abadan Crisis timeline


Prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh shaking hands with Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi

In 1951, the AIOC’s resistance to re-negotiating their petroleum concession—and increasing the royalty paid to Iran—created popular support for nationalising the company. In March, the pro-Western PM Ali Razmara was assassinated; the next month, the parliament legislated the petroleum industry’s nationalisation, by creating the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). This legislation was guided by the Western-educated Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, then a member of the Iranian parliament and leader of the nationalisation movement; by May, the Shah had appointed Mosaddegh Prime Minister.

Mohammad Mosaddegh attempted to negotiate with the AIOC, but the company rejected his proposed compromise. Mosaddegh’s plan, based on the 1948 compromise between the Venezuelan Government of Romulo Gallegos and Creole Petroleum,[40] would divide the profits from oil 50/50 between Iran and Britain. Against the recommendation of the United States, Britain refused this proposal and began planning to undermine and overthrow the Iranian government.[41]

That summer, American diplomat Averell Harriman went to Iran to negotiate an Anglo-Iranian compromise, asking the Shah’s help; his reply was that “in the face of public opinion, there was no way he could say a word against nationalisation”.[42] Harriman held a press conference in Tehran, calling for reason and enthusiasm in confronting the “nationalisation crisis”. As soon as he spoke, a journalist rose and shouted: “We and the Iranian people all support Premier Mosaddegh and oil nationalisation!” Everyone present began cheering and then marched out of the room; the abandoned Harriman shook his head in dismay.[42]

The National Iranian Oil Company suffered decreased production, because of Iranian inexperience and the AIOC’s orders that British technicians not work with them, thus provoking the Abadan Crisis that was aggravated by the Royal Navy‘s blockading its export markets to pressure Iran to not nationalise its petroleum. The Iranian revenues were greater, because the profits went to Iran’s national treasury rather than to private, foreign oil companies. By September 1951, the British had virtually ceased Abadan oil field production, forbidden British export to Iran of key British commodities (including sugar and steel),[43] and had frozen Iran’s hard currency accounts in British banks.[44]

The United Kingdom took its anti-nationalisation case against Iran to the International Court of Justice at The Hague; PM Mosaddegh said the world would learn of a “cruel and imperialistic country” stealing from a “needy and naked people”. Representing the AIOC, the UK lost its case. In August 1952, Iranian Prime Minister Mosaddegh invited an American oil executive to visit Iran and the Truman administration welcomed the invitation. However, the suggestion upset British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who insisted that the U.S. not undermine his campaign to isolate Mosaddegh: “Britain was supporting the Americans in Korea, he reminded Truman, and had a right to expect Anglo-American unity on Iran.”[45]

In mid-1952, Britain’s boycott of Iranian oil was devastatingly effective. British agents in Tehran “worked to subvert” the government of Mosaddegh, who sought help from President Truman and then the World Bank but to no avail. “Iranians were becoming poorer and unhappier by the day” and Mosaddegh’s political coalition was fraying.

In the Majlis election in the spring of 1952, Mosaddegh “had little to fear from a free vote, since despite the country’s problems, he was widely admired as a hero. A free vote, however, was not what others were planning. British agents had fanned out across the country, bribing candidates, and the regional bosses who controlled them. They hoped to fill the Majlis with deputies who would vote to depose Mosaddegh. It would be a coup carried out by seemingly legal means.”[46]

While the National Front, which often supported Mosaddegh won handily in the big cities, there was no one to monitor voting in the rural areas. Violence broke out in Abadan and other parts of the country where elections were hotly contested. Faced with having to leave Iran for The Hague where Britain was suing for control of Iranian oil, Mossadegh’s cabinet voted to postpone the remainder of the election until after the return of the Iranian delegation from The Hague.[47]

By mid-1953 a mass of resignations by Mossadegh’s parliamentary supporters reduced parliament below its quorum. A referendum to dissolve parliament and give the prime minister power to make law was submitted to voters, and it passed with 99.9 percent approval, 2,043,300 votes to 1300 votes against.[48]

While Mosaddegh dealt with political challenge, he faced another that most Iranians considered far more urgent. The British blockade of Iranian seaports meant that Iran was left without access to markets where it could sell its oil. The embargo had the effect of causing Iran to spiral into bankruptcy. Tens of thousands had lost their jobs at the Abadan refinery, and although most understood and passionately supported the idea of nationalisation, they naturally hoped that Mosaddegh would find a way to put them back to work. The only way he could do that was to sell oil.”[49]

Worried about Britain’s other interests in Iran, and believing that Iran’s nationalism was Soviet-backed, Britain persuaded Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that Iran was falling to the Soviets—effectively exploiting the American Cold War mindset. While President Harry S. Truman was busy fighting a war in Korea, he did not agree to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. However, in 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower became president, the UK convinced him to a joint coup d’état.[34]
U.S. role
Execution of Operation Ajax

Having obtained the Shah’s concurrence, the CIA executed the coup.[50]Firmans (royal decrees) dismissing Mosaddegh and appointing Zahedi were drawn up by the coup plotters and signed by the Shah. On Saturday 15 August, Colonel Nematollah Nassiri, the commander of the Imperial Guard, delivered to Mosaddegh a firman from the Shah dismissing him. Mosaddegh, who had been warned of the plot (probably by the Tudeh party) rejected the firman as a forgery and had Nassiri arrested.[51] Mosaddegh argued at his trial after the coup that under the Iranian constitutional monarchy, the Shah had no constitutional right to issue an order for the elected Prime Minister’s dismissal without Parliament’s consent.[52] The action was publicized within Iran by the CIA and in the United States by The New York Times. The Shah, fearing a popular backlash, fled to Rome, Italy. After a short exile in Italy, the CIA completed the coup against Mossadegh,[50] and returned the Shah to Iran. Alan Dulles, the director of the CIA, flew back with the Shah from Rome to Teheran.[53] Gen. Zahedi replaced the deposed Prime Minister Mosaddegh, who was arrested, tried, and originally sentenced to death.[54][55] Mosaddegh’s sentence was commuted to three years’ solitary confinement in a military prison, followed by house arrest until his death.[56]

As a condition for restoring the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the U.S. required removal of the AIOC’s monopoly; five American petroleum companies, Royal Dutch Shell, and the Compagnie Française des Pétroles, were to draw Iran’s petroleum after the successful coup d’état—Operation Ajax.[citation needed]

As part of that, the CIA organized anti-Communist guerrillas to fight the Tudeh Party if they seized power in the chaos of Operation Ajax.[57] Per released National Security Archive documents, Undersecretary of State Walter Bedell Smith reported that the CIA had agreed with Qashqai tribal leaders, in south Iran, to establish a clandestine safe haven from which U.S.-funded guerrillas and spies could operate.[57][58]

Operation Ajax’s formal leader was senior CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., while career agent Donald Wilber was the operational leader, planner, and executor of the deposition of PM Mosaddegh. The coup d’état depended on the impotent Shah’s dismissing the popular and powerful Prime Minister and replacing him with Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, with help from Col. Abbas Farzanegan—a man agreed upon by the British and Americans after determining his anti-Soviet politics.[58]

The CIA sent Major generalNorman Schwarzkopf, Sr. to persuade the exiled Shah to return to rule Iran. Schwarzkopf trained the security forces that would become known as SAVAK to secure the shah’s hold on power.[59][60]
The coup and CIA records

The coup was carried out by the U.S. administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower in a covert action advocated by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and implemented under the supervision of his brother Allen Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence.[61] The coup was organized by the United States’ CIA and the United Kingdom’s MI6, two spy agencies that aided royalists and royalist elements of the Iranian army.[62]

According to a heavily redacted CIA document[63] released to the National Security Archive in response to a Freedom of Information request, “Available documents do not indicate who authorized CIA to begin planning the operation, but it almost certainly was President Eisenhower himself. Eisenhower biographer Stephen Ambrose has written that the absence of documentation reflected the President’s style.”

The CIA document then quotes from the Ambrose biography of Eisenhower:

Before going into the operation, Ajax had to have the approval of the President. Eisenhower participated in none of the meetings that set up Ajax; he received only oral reports on the plan; and he did not discuss it with his Cabinet or the NSC. Establishing a pattern he would hold to throughout his Presidency, he kept his distance and left no documents behind that could implicate the President in any projected coup. But in the privacy of the Oval Office, over cocktails, he was kept informed by Foster Dulles, and he maintained a tight control over the activities of the CIA.[64]

CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, carried out the operation planned by CIA agent Donald Wilber. One version of the CIA history, written by Wilber, referred to the operation as TPAJAX.[65][66]

During the coup, Roosevelt and Wilber, representatives of the Eisenhower administration, bribed Iranian government officials, reporters, and businessmen. They also bribed street thugs to support the Shah and oppose Mosaddegh.[67] The deposed Iranian leader, Mosaddegh, was taken to jail and Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi named himself prime minister in the new, pro-western government.


Iranian fascists and Nazis played prominent roles in the coup regime. Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, who had been arrested and imprisoned by the British during World War II for his attempt to establish a pro-Nazi government, was made Prime Minister on 19 August 1953. The CIA gave Zahedi about $100,000 before the coup and an additional $5 million the day after the coup to help consolidate support for the coup. Bahram Shahrokh, a trainee of Joseph Goebbels and Berlin Radio’s Persian-language program announcer during the Nazi rule, became director of propaganda. Mr. Sharif-Emami, who also had spent some time in jail for his pro-Nazi activities in the 1940s, assumed several positions after 1953 coup, including Secretary General of the Oil Industry, President of the Senate, and Prime Minister (twice). [68][69]

The British and American spy agencies returned the monarchy to Iran by installing the pro-western Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the throne where his rule lasted 26 years. Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979.[34][70] Masoud Kazemzadeh, associate professor of political science at the Sam Houston State University, wrote that Pahlavi was directed by the CIA and MI6, and assisted by high-ranking Shia clerics.[71] He wrote that the coup employed mercenaries including “prostitutes and thugs” from Tehran’s red light district.[71]

The overthrow of Iran’s elected government in 1953 ensured Western control of Iran’s petroleum resources and prevented the Soviet Union from competing for Iranian oil.[72][73][74][75] Some Iranian clerics cooperated with the western spy agencies because they were dissatisfied with Mosaddegh’s secular government.[67]

While the broad outlines of the Iran operation are known: the agency led a coup in 1953 that re-installed the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the throne, where he remained until overthrown in 1979. “But the C.I.A.’s records were widely thought by historians to have the potential to add depth and clarity to a famous but little-documented intelligence operation,” reporter Tim Weiner wrote in The New York Times 29 May 1997[76]

“The Central Intelligence Agency, which has repeatedly pledged for more than five years to make public the files from its secret mission to overthrow the government of Iran in 1953, said today that it had destroyed or lost almost all the documents decades ago.”[76][77][78]

“A historian who was a member of the C.I.A. staff in 1992 and 1993 said in an interview today that the records were obliterated by ‘a culture of destruction’ at the agency. The historian, Nick Cullather, said he believed that records on other major cold war covert operations had been burned, including those on secret missions in Indonesia in the 1950s and a successful C.I.A.-sponsored coup in Guyana in the early 1960s. ‘Iran—there’s nothing’, Mr. Cullather said. ‘Indonesia—very little. Guyana—that was burned.’”[76]

Donald Wilber, one of the CIA officers who planned the 1953 coup in Iran, wrote an account titled, Clandestine Service History Overthrow Of Premier Mossadeq of Iran: November 1952 – August 1953. Wilber said one goal of the coup was to strengthen the Shah.

In 2000, James Risen at The New York Times obtained the previously secret CIA version of the coup written by Wilber and summarized[79] its contents, which includes the following.

In early August, the C.I.A. stepped up the pressure. Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh, seeking to stir anti-Communist sentiment in the religious community. In addition, the secret history says, the house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by C.I.A. agents posing as Communists. It does not say whether anyone was hurt in this attack. The agency was also intensifying its propaganda campaign. A leading newspaper owner was granted a personal loan of about $45,000, in the belief that this would make his organ amenable to our purposes. But the shah remained intransigent. In an Aug. 1 meeting with General Norman Schwarzkopf, he refused to sign the C.I.A.-written decrees firing Mr. Mossadegh and appointing General Zahedi. He said he doubted that the army would support him in a showdown.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University contains the full account by Wilber, along with many other coup-related documents and analysis.[80][81]

In a January, 1973 telephone conversation made public in 2009, U.S. President Richard Nixon told CIA Director Richard Helms, who was awaiting Senate confirmation to become the new U.S. Ambassador to Iran, that Nixon wanted Helms to be a “regional ambassador” to Persian Gulf oil states, and noted that Helms had been a schoolmate of Shah Reza Pahlavi.[82]


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