At the 2,500th celebration of the Iranian Monarchy in 1971, dinner is served in an opulent tent. Left to right are Prince Rainier of Monaco, Prince Philip of Great Britain, Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden and Vice President Spiro Agnew of the United States of America.
The 1953 coup is widely seen as having set the conditions for the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is a consequence the US and Iran are still dealing with today. What seeds of discontent, retaliation and blowback are we sewing today... in Egypt? Palestine? Yemen? Pakistan? Syria?
Read Cecil Jones’ article on the CIA-led coup in Iran from Adbusters #78 below or listen to Noam Chomsky’s interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now from September 11th, 2013 where he discusses the legacy of torture left by the US in Iran from 1953 to today.
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On the verge of abandoning his seven-year exploration for oil in Iran, British socialite William Knox D'Arcy struck black gold in 1908. D'Arcy's fortuitous find meant incredible wealth for the British government, but set off the series of cataclysmic events over the next century that are at the core of why the United States is on the brink of invading Iran.
After the discovery of oil, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as BP) was created, and for the next four decades Iranian oil fueled the British Empire. Since England didn't have another oil-producing colony, Iran's oil kept every British factory, home and car up and running. For its part, Iran received a mere 16 percent of the revenue.
When the British government refused to renegotiate a fair deal with Iran, Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the oilfields in 1951. But Britain would not let the loss of its most important resource go unanswered. By convincing the US government that an encroaching Soviet Empire was inching into Iran, the British got the Central Intelligence Agency to orchestrate a coup d'état. Two years after Iran took back its oil, the democratically elected Mossadegh was removed and replaced by the pro-western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Over the course of his 25 years in power, the Shah terrorized his people, imprisoning and torturing tens of thousands of political opponents, while blowing millions on extravagant celebrations as his people lived in abject poverty.
Although the Shah protected British and America's oil supplies, the CIA realized that its meddling could have some repercussions. After the coup, the CIA coined the term "blowback" to describe the possible "unintended consequences" of its covert action. The 1953 CIA-led coup in Iran set the stage for the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the consequences of which the US and Iran are still facing today.
Photo: The corpses of 11 dignitaries of the Shah's regime lie on the floor of a Tehran morgue in April 1979. Among them are Khalatbari, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and General Hassan Pakhravan, first chief of the Savak, the brutal and much-despised political police. (Abbas/Magnum)
New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer explores the history of America's involvement in Iran with his book, All The Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Notably, he shows how the CIA-led coup of the nationalist Iranian government in 1953 created the roots of virulent anti-western sentiment in the Middle East. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman.
I was recently on a panel in the National Cathedral in Washington, and one of the other panelists – we were talking about Iran – was Bruce Laingen, who had been the chief American diplomat in Iran and was the most prominent figure among the hostages that were held there for 444 days. And I knew that Laingen had become an advocate of reconciliation with Iran, which I consider quite remarkable, considering the ordeal that he suffered, so I wanted to talk to him.
He told me an amazing story. He said, "I had been sitting in my solitary cell as a hostage for about a year, when one day the cell door opens, and there is standing one of the hostage takers, one of my jailers. And all of my rage and my fury built up over one year sitting in that cell just burst out, and I started screaming at him, and I was telling him, ‘You have no right to do this! This is cruel, this is inhumane! These people have done nothing! This is a violation of every law of god and man! You cannot take innocent people hostage!'" He said, "I went on like this for several minutes. When I was finally out of breath, the hostage taker paused for a moment, and then he leaned into my cell and said, in very good English, ‘You have no right to complain, because you took our whole country hostage in 1953.'"
That story really reinforced to me the connection and the fact that those hostage takers took those hostages not out of nihilistic rage, but for a very specific reason that seemed to make very good sense to them. In 1953, the Iranian people had chased the Shah out, but CIA agents working inside the American embassy in Tehran organized a coup and brought him back. So flash forward to 1979, people of Iran have chased the Shah out again. He has been admitted into the United States.
People in Iran are thinking, "It's all happening again. CIA agents working in the basement of the American embassy are going to organize a coup, and they're going to bring the Shah back. We have to prevent 1953 from happening again." That was the motivation for the hostage taking, although I don't think any of us really understood that at the time.
Listen to the complete interview with Stephen Kinzer from democracynow.org.