Today in Middle East history: the 1953 Iranian coup

It’s not quite as big a milestone as today’s 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus, but 61 years ago today the elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown by US and UK intelligence services working with a group of Iranian military officers. In place of the elected government they established an absolute monarchy under the unchecked power of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who spent the next quarter century using that unchecked power to brutalize his subjects. Mossadegh’s crime was his plan to nationalize the assets of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (today known for its sterling environmental record under the name BP). For some unfathomable reason, he didn’t believe the British should be allowed to profit from Iranian oil while ignoring virtually every one of their obligations under the 1933 agreement that created the AIOC and paying the Iranians a scant 17.5% of AIOC’s profits for their troubles. Obviously such a dangerously imbalanced individual could not be allowed to remain in power, where, again, the Iranian political system had put him.

If you want to understand why relations between the US and Iran are lousy, it’s tempting from the American perspective to stop at 1979 and the hostage crisis. But there’s much more to the story than that, particularly from the Iranian side, and 1953 is a huge piece. I’m in no position to write more about the coup today, unfortunately, but over at Juan Cole’s site, political scientist Farhad Malekafzali has a piece on two Mossadegh allies who were killed in the aftermath of the coup:

The stories of two of Mosaddegh’s comrades, Dr. Hussain Fatemi and Brigadier General Mahmoud Afshartous have received little attention outside of the Farsi press. They paid with their lives for their defense of the popular movement Dr. Mossadegh had come to symbolize. Their deaths represent the brutality and pettiness of Mohammad Reza Shah and his domestic and foreign collaborators.


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