By Cynthia Chung
It all started in 1872, with Nasir al-Din Shah having granted to the British Baron Julius de Reuter, rights to Iran’s entire economic estate. Reuter not only controlled Iran’s industry, farming, and rail transportation, but also held the right to issue currency and to set up a national bank, called the Imperial Bank of Persia, which was under direct British control.
In 1901, Muzzaffar al-Din Shah negotiated what became known as the D’Arcy Contract, granting William Knox D’Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, the special and exclusive privilege to basically own and manage the natural gas and petroleum of Iran for a term of 60 years.
In May 26th 1908 D’Arcy struck pay-dirt in Iran, discovering a huge oil field in Masjed-Soleiman. Britain immediately set up APOC in 1908, purchasing the rights to the black gold from D’Arcy. Six years later, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill gave the order to purchase 51% of APOC, effectively nationalizing the company. This was to ensure the free flow of oil to the British navy. It was the first company to extract petroleum from Iran.
Iran received only 16% of the royalties on the oil.
Britain continued to pursue total control of Iran, not through colonial occupation, but rather through economic “agreements”. In the midst of carving up the empire’s new “jewels” of the Middle East from the Sykes-Picot fraud on the Arabian people and the illegal British occupation of Palestine, the notorious Anglo-Persian Agreement of Aug 19, 1919 was also signed, with London effectively turning Iran into a de facto protectorate run by British “advisors”. Britain had succeeded in becoming the masters of Iran’s natural resources through this agreement.
Iran received almost nothing in return, not even oil from APOC for domestic consumption, but rather had to import it from the Soviet Union!
On Nov 28th 1932 Reza Shah announced that he would be cancelling the British concession to APOC. The British Navy was heavily dependent on cheap Iranian oil and thus Britain refused to acquiesce. A compromise was reached in 1933 through bilateral negotiations and the British managed to extend their concession up until 1993! Iran had succeeded in getting the British to pay a higher price but it still did not control its own oil.
The American Relationship
Despite claiming a neutral stance for Iran during WWII, word had gotten out that Reza Shah, nevertheless, saw in Hitler the potential for Iran to be freed from its British and Soviet occupation. The argument was thus used that a pro-German Iran could become a launching pad for an attack against the Soviet Union, justifying British and Soviet entry into the country on Aug 25th 1941 for what would be a several years’ occupation. On Sept 16th Reza was forced by the British to abdicate and go into exile transferring power to his 22 year old son, Mohammad Reza Shah.
Mohammad Reza Shah was not happy with the joint occupation and sought an American military presence as a mediator to British and Soviet interests. The Shah sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug 25th 1941 asking him to:
“be good enough to interest yourself in this incident…I beg Your Excellency to take efficacious and urgent humanitarian steps to put an end to these acts of aggression.”
In response to this plea, Roosevelt sent Gen. Patrick Hurley as his special representative to Iran to help prepare what was to become the Iran Declaration, finally adopted at the Tehran Conference where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill would agree to guarantee the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Iran.
The Iran Declaration was used to finally end the foreign occupation of Iran after WWII, despite some resistance, and would play a crucial role in Iran’s future fight for sovereignty. The Iran Declaration thus proved itself to be more than just words, and this would certainly never have happened if not for FDR.
As part of Hurley’s report to FDR, he wrote some biting words on the present system of British imperialism:
“The imperialism of Germany, Japan, Italy, France… will, we hope, end or be radically revised by this war [WWII]. British imperialism seems to have acquired a new life. . . What appears to be a new life… is the result of the infusion, into its emaciated form, of the blood of productivity and liberty from a free nation [Iran] through Lend-Lease.”
Roosevelt sent a copy of the Hurley report to Churchill with his thoughts on the matter:
“The enclosed memorandum was sent to me… I rather like his general approach to the care and education of what used to be called ‘backward countries’…the point of all this is that I do not want the United States to acquire a ‘zone of influence,’ or any other nation for that matter [in Iran].”
Churchill was less than enthusiastic on the Hurley-FDR vision. He was particularly irked by Hurley’s notion that British imperialism were in conflict with democracy.
FDR died only a few months later, and with his interment, Hurley’s plans for American support for a sovereign and democratic Iran as a model for the rest of the Middle East were relegated to the dust bins of time and forgotten by much of the world.
Following WWII, nationalistic sentiments were on the rise including in the Middle East, the most notable being Iran. However, following the death of FDR the British were free to disingenuously respond to Iran’s request for better economic conditions by offering what was called the “Supplemental Agreement”, in May 1949. This entailed a better payment in royalties but still denied Iran any oversight over accounts or any other form of control over Iranian oil.
In the late 1940s, a new political force emerged in Iran called the National Front led by Mohammad Mosaddegh. Their campaign was centered on the demand to nationalize the AIOC and the people of Iran were in accord, electing Mosaddegh into the Majlis (parliament) in 1949.
Mosaddegh lost no time, and quickly became the head of the Majlis Oil Committee which was tasked to study the British “Supplemental Agreement”. When it came time to put it to a vote on Nov 25th 1950, the committee delivered a resounding “no” to the British proposition.
Less than four months later, the Majlis voted on March 15th 1951 for nationalization of the AIOC, and it was renamed as the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Less than two months later, Mosaddegh became Prime Minister of Iran on April 28th 1951.
The British were left empty handed.
Twice the British tried to argue their case before the international community, once in May 1951 at The Hague and again in October at the UN Security Council. Both attempts were to lose to Mosaddegh’s defense. Mosaddegh had earned a Ph.D. in law from the Neuchatel Law School in Switzerland in 1914.
This was anything but a formal victory. It was to set a precedent in the international community that a country’s right to national sovereignty would be favored over Britain’s imperial “claims”, which were exposed during these two very public trials as amounting to nothing more than the threats and bribes of pirates.
At the UN Security Council, Mosaddegh responded to Britain’s imperial ambitions over Iran with these eloquent words:
“My countrymen lack the bare necessities of existence…Our greatest natural asset is oil. This should be the source of work and food for the population of Iran. Its exploitation should properly be our national industry, and the revenue from it should go to improve our conditions of life. As now organized, however, the petroleum industry has contributed practically nothing to the well-being of the people or to the technical progress or industrial development of my country…if we are to tolerate a situation in which the Iranian plays the part of a mere manual worker in the oil fields…and if foreign exploiters continue to appropriate practically all of the income, then our people will remain forever in a state of poverty and misery. These are the reasons that have prompted the Iranian parliament… to vote unanimously in favor of nationalizing the oil industry.”
A British coup with an American Face
The British were fuming over Mosaddegh’s high profile humiliation of the British Empire’s claim to Iran’s oil. Mosaddegh would have to be deposed, however, this could not look like a British retaliation.
During Averell Harrimann’s visit to Tehran in July 1951, in an attempt to salvage the broken British-Iranian relationship, Mosaddegh is reported to have said,
“You do not know how crafty they are. You do not know how evil they are. You do not know how they sully everything they touch.”
As coup rumours circulated and reports were rife of British contact being sought with Iranian military officers, Mosaddegh severed diplomatic relations with the UK on Oct 16th 1952. The British were further humiliated and had to leave the country taking their agents with them.
It was at this point that Churchill “invited” his lap dog, de facto president Truman, to participate in his vision for regime change in Iran. In November 1952, NSC 136 and 136/I were written into record, Truman had agreed to promote direct intervention in Iran through covert operations and even military force. A detailed plan was approved on Jan 8th 1953 which was 12 days before Eisenhower was inaugurated.
The management of this covert operation was under the treasonous Dulles brothers, who would use the very same technique when JFK first entered office in setting him up with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, however, JFK managed to publicly expose Allan Dulles in this scheme and fired him. Dulles had been the Director of the CIA for 8 years up until that point, and was Deputy Director of the CIA for two years prior. Refer to my paper on this for further details.
A preliminary meeting in Washington saw representatives of the Near East and Africa Division (NEA) with British Intelligence. The key personalities were Christopher Montague Woodhouse who had been station chief for British Intelligence in Tehran and on the American side Kermit Roosevelt (son of Teddy Roosevelt) acting as NEA Division Chief. It was the British who would propose a joint political action to remove Prime Minister Mosaddegh according to CIA documents, which were in part leaked by the New York Times on April 16th 2000. The final plan was codenamed TPAJAX.
Appendix B, aka “London Draft of the TPAJAX Operational Plan” was black propaganda aimed at discrediting Mosaddegh, claiming his was in favor of the Tudeh Party and the USSR and thus that he was a traitor to Islam.
The aim of such tactics was to drive a wedge between Mosaddegh and his National Front on the one side and his clerical allies, especially Ayatollah Kashani on the other. Staged demonstrations against Mosaddegh in the streets were to provide the pretext for bought MPs to hold a vote against him. And if Mosaddegh refused to step down the plan was to have Fazlollah Zahedi, leader of the opposition, arrest him. Zahedi, as laid out in Appendix B was selected by the British to replace Mosaddegh as Prime Minister after the coup.
Chief of Staff Gen. Taghi Riahi found out about the coup plans and alerted Mosaddegh in time. When the chief of the Imperial Guards, Col. Nasiri went to Mosaddegh’s house the evening before the planned coup day (Aug 16th) to arrest him, Nasiri himself was taken as prisoner by the pro- Mosaddegh military. Zahedi managed to flee.
The coup attempt had failed and the word spread fast, crowds flooded the streets supporting Mosaddegh and denouncing the Shah. The Shah immediately left the country.
The CIA informed of the fiasco alerted Kermit Roosevelt that he should leave Iran immediately. But Kermit believed the coup could still work and would make a second attempt three days later. British Intelligence and CIA orchestrated demonstrations set to the streets on Aug 19th. The royal decrees signed by the Shah for the deposal of Mosaddegh to be replaced by Zahedi were made public in the press that very day with the radio news announcing: that Zahedi was Prime Minister, that Mosaddegh had been ousted and that the Shah would return soon.
Military units were dispatched to Mosaddegh’s home. As his house was being destroyed by gunfire and tanks, Mosaddegh managed to escape. It is said he later turned himself in to the authorities.
After a ten-week period in a military prison, Mosaddegh was tried on charges of treason, because he had allegedly mobilized for a rebellion and had contradicted the Shah. In fact, the accused treason was a nationalistic response to a foreign led coup.
Mosaddegh was promptly found guilty and sentenced to death, later lessened to three years in prison, followed by house arrest.
Mosaddegh’s response to the kangaroo court proceedings was,
“My only crime is that I nationalized the oil industry and removed from this land the network of colonialism and the political and economic influence of the greatest empire [the British Empire] on Earth.”
Members of his government were also arrested, as were the leading military who remained loyal to him. Six hundred of the 6, 000 of these men were executed.
Even after Mosaddegh had passed away, on March 5th, 1967, his enemies were fearful of his influence. Mosaddegh had requested that upon his death, he be buried in the public graveyard beside the victims of the political violence that occurred on the 21st July 1952 from British-backed Ahmad Qavam who ordered soldiers to shoot at Mosaddegh nationalists during a demonstration, resulting in a blood bath. Not wanting his grave to become the site of political manifestations, a public funeral for Mosaddegh was denied and his body was quietly buried underneath the floorboards of a room in his house.
Part 2 will discuss the Shah’s battle with the Seven Sisters, the 1979 Revolution and the Carter Administration’s reaction, which was to have immense economic consequences internationally, as a response to the hostage crisis.
Original version published by Strategic Culture Foundation