A history of US covert action

Ousting Mossadegh was the CIA’s first successful overthrow of a foreign government and was the precursor of other US-inspired regime changes during the Cold War.
Sunday 22/07/2018
A 1953 file picture shows an army officer rallying a crowd of supporters of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi in front of the home of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Tehran. (AP)
A 1953 file picture shows an army officer rallying a crowd of supporters of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi in front of the home of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in Tehran. (AP)

BEIRUT - The West’s problems with Iran began on August 19, 1953, when the US Central Intelligence Agency and Britain’s Special Intelligence Service staged a coup that brought down the government of the popular and democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

The coup, one of many such plots devised by the CIA, restored to power Iran’s monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a weak and vacillating ruler who had fled to Rome when Mossadegh was elected.

The objective of the coup was control of Iran’s vast oil wealth and keeping the Soviet Union at bay.

Until Mossadegh nationalised Iran’s oil, it had been controlled by the British, while the Americans overlorded Saudi Arabia’s. As Britain’s post-war power waned, the United States eventually controlled Iran’s as well.

Operation Ajax caused intense outrage in Iran among hardliners and liberals alike because Mossadegh was considered a symbol of democracy who had defied the Western powers.

That outrage came home to haunt the Americans in January 1979 when the US-backed shah was toppled in the Islamic Revolution, whipped up by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic that resulted endures to this day.

Ousting Mossadegh was the CIA’s first successful overthrow of a foreign government and was the precursor of other US-inspired regime changes during the Cold War.

The CIA consistently denied involvement in the Mossadegh affair until June 2017 when secret papers concerning Operation Ajax, masterminded by Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt, a grandson of US President Theodore Roosevelt and a distant cousin of President Franklin Roosevelt, were declassified.

On November 4, 1979, Khomeini militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held diplomats (and at least one CIA agent they didn’t know about) in captivity for 444 days.

The shah died of cancer in exile in Cairo on July 27, 1980, aged 60.

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