More significantly, Mosaddeq’s once-unchallenged position as leader of the nationalist movement grew increasingly precarious. As discussed above, key 'National Front figures such as Kashani, Baqai, and Makki had been conspiring against Mosaddeq since the summer of 1952. Inasmuch as these figures held great sway over the urban lower classes, this weakened Mosaddeq’s base of popular support. The defection of these leaders into the opposition also undermined Mosaddeq’s position in the Majlis. Kashani, as speaker of the Majlis, had tried to oust Mosaddeq in January 1953. After the incidents of February and April 1953, Majlis debates over the causes of the February incident and Baqai’s role in the murder of Afshartous served as forums for further attacks against Mosaddeq. By the summer of 1953, battle lines had clearly been drawn between Mosaddeq and his supporters in the Iran party and the Third Force, on the one hand, and Zahedi, Kashani, Baqai, and their allies, on the other (54).
Mosaddeq’s position grew more precarious in June and July of 1953. Demonstrations by pro and anti-Mosaddeq crowds and the Tudeh occurred almost daily. The Majlis was the scene of continual disputes between pro and anti Mosaddeq forces over issues such as the February riots, Baqai’s role in the Afshartous killing, control over the army, and elections for a new speaker. Fistfights broke out in the Majlis in early June. On July 1, Mosaddeq achieved a major victory over his opponents when Abdullah Moazami, a Mosaddeq supporter, was elected by a vote of 41 to 31 to replace Kashani as speaker. After further attacks by the opposition, a group of Mosaddeq supporters resigned en masse from the Majlis in protest. In late July, a group of deputies loyal to Haerizadeh and Baqai took bast in the Majlis. With the Majlis thus paralyzed, Mosaddeq decided to close it and seek new elections. Because of the opposition’s threat to prevent a quorum, Mosaddeq was forced to hold a public referendum on the issue in early August. The referendum was rigged which caused a great public outcry against Mosaddeq (57).
APPRAISAL OF THE U.S. ROLE IN THE COUP
The three questions posed in the introduction to this study can now be answered. What motives led U.S. policy makers to overthrow Mosaddeq? It is often argued that the main motive behind the coup was the desire of U.S. policy makers to help U.S. oil companies gain a share in Iranian oil production.(68) On the face of it, this argument has considerable merit. The Eisenhower administration was certainly favorable to U.S. business interests, and the Dulles brothers’ law firm had often represented U.S. oil companies in legal matters. Moreover, the final agreement worked out in 1954 with the Zahedi government gave U.S. companies a 40 Iranian oil production, which had previously been controlled by the British.
While this view cannot entirely be refuted, it seems more plausible to argue that U.S. policymakers were motivated mainly by fears of a communist takeover in Iran, and that the involvement of U.S. companies was sought mainly to prevent this from occurring. The Cold War was at its height in the early 1950s, and the Soviet Union was viewed as an expansionist power seeking world domination. Eisenhower had made the Soviet threat a key issue in the 1952 elections, accusing the Democrats of being soft on communism and of having “lost China.” Once in power, the new administration quickly sought to put its views into practice: the State Department was purged of homosexuals and suspected communists, steps were taken to strengthen the Western alliance, and initiatives were begun to bolster the Western position in Latin America, the Middle East, and East Asia. Viewed in this context, and coming as it did only two weeks after Eisenhower’s inauguration, the decision to overthrow Mosaddeq appears merely as one more step in the global effort of the Eisenhower administration to block Soviet expansionism. (69)
Moreover, the major U.S. oil companies were not interested in Iran at this time. A glut existed in the world oil market. The U.S. majors had increased their production in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1951 in order to make up for the loss of Iranian production; operating in Iran would force them to cut back production in these countries which would create tensions with Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders. Furthermore, if nationalist sentiments remained high in Iran, production there would be risky. U.S. oil companies had shown no interest in Iran in 1951 and 1952. By late 1952, the Truman administration had come to believe that participation by U.S. companies in the production of Iranian oil was essential to maintain stability in Iran and keep Iran out of Soviet hands. In order to gain the participation of the major U.S. oil companies, Truman offered to scale back a large anti-trust case then being brought against them. The Eisenhower administration shared Truman’s views on the participation of U.S. companies in Iran and also agreed to scale back the anti-trust case. Thus, not only did U.S. majors not want to participate in Iran at this time, it took a major effort by U.S. policymakers to persuade them to become involved. (70)
What roles did Britain and the various Iranian participants play? The British role in the coup itself appears to have been limited to assistance in the formulation of the original coup plan and the contribution of the Rashidian network. The original plan, of course, had little bearing on how the coup actually occurred, the Rashidians do not seem to have played a particularly crucial role in the coup itself. Of much greater significance was the British role in undermining Mosaddeq’s position throughout the time that he was Prime Minister. The British acted against Mosaddeq almost continuously, backing three major, protracted efforts to oust him. Britain also instituted an oil embargo and a variety of other economic sanctions against Iran. These activities were largely responsible for the dual erosion of Mosaddeq’s base of support. The consequent erosion that occurred contributed to his downfall, and as such, these actions helped to bring out the overthrow of Mosaddeq.
Four main groups of Iranians were involved in the coup. First, Zahedi and his immediate allies, including his son, Abul Qasem Bakhtiari, and military officers such as Hejazi, Nassiri, Guilanshah, and Bakhtiar played an obvious role. Zahedi and several of these figures had been conspiring against Mosaddeq for about a year before the coup; the others led military units or played important support roles in the coup itself. Second, former Mosaddeq allies such as Kashani and Baqai worked to undermine Mosaddeq’s base of support in the year before the coup, and Kashani at least appears also to have played an important role in coup. Third, Nerren and Cilley and the Rashidians played key roles in carrying out the coup and in supervising anti-Mosaddeq activities in the period fore the coup. Finally, the Shah himself played a significant, although reluctant, role in acquiescing to the coup. (72) Beyond these specific people, a relatively small indeterminate number of Iranians either volunteered or were hired to participate in anti-Mosaddeq demonstrations and other activities.
The 1953 coup ended the slow, halting progress that Iran had been making since the early 1900s toward a more representative form of government and toward freedom from foreign interference. These two aspirations were embodied in Mosaddeq’s movement; with the coup, he became a martyr to these causes. In the years after the coup, an authoritarian regime was gradually consolidated in Iran with massive assistance from the United States. Martial law was instituted and remained in effect for several years. Thousands of National Front and Tudeh supporters were arrested. Pro-Mosaddeq demonstrations in the Tehran bazaar and at Tehran University were broken up. A successor to the National Front known as the National Resistance Movement was suppressed. The Qashqai tribe was attacked and its leaders were sent into exile. Press censorship was instituted. A secret police force was established that soon evolved into the notorious SAVAK. Majlis elections in February 1954 were blatantly rigged.(79) Except during a brief period in the early 1960s, the instruments of dictatorship were kept firmly in place until the Iranian revolution began to unfold in 1978. By then, any hope of establishing a democratic alternative to the Shah had long since been lost.
The 1953 coup was thus a decisive turning point in Iranian history. Had the coup not occurred, Iran’s future would undoubtedly have been vastly different. Similarly, the U.S. role in the coup and in the subsequent consolidation of the Shah’s dictatorship was decisive for the future of U.S. relations with Iran. U.S. complicity in these events figured prominently in the terrorist attacks on American citizens and installations that occurred in Iran in the early 1970s, in the anti American character of the 1978-1979 revolution, and in the many anti-American incidents that emanated from Iran after the revolution, including, most notably, the embassy hostage crisis. Latter-day supporters of the coup frequently argue that it purchased twenty-five years of stability in Iran under a pro-American regime. As the dire consequences of the revolution for U.S. interests continue to unfold, one can only wonder whether this has been worth the long-term cost.