The Iranian coup 1953


The Iranian coup 1953

Known in Iran as the August 28 coup, was a coup, to overthrow democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister “Mohamed Mossadegh” on August 19, 1953, planned by the United Kingdom and the United States, the first secret action by the United States to overthrow a foreign government in peacetime.

Early History

Britain in World War I was able to secure Iran’s oil refineries in Abadan, the only source it relied on to provide fuel for its warships during the war

In the Second World War, the region of Iran and the Black Sea region was violent military conflict between Germany and Britain. The German plan was to occupy the whole territory of Russia and then progress southward and control the oil fields in the Black Sea region and then the occupation of Iran and meet with the African legion forces led by Rommel in the region of Iraq, thus, Germany tightened its grip on oil in the Gulf region, but the defeat of the Germans in the battles of North Africa and Russia prevented the Germans from achieving this goal.

In 1941, after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, British, Commonwealth and Red Army forces invaded Iran to secure oil for the Soviet Union’s efforts against the Nazis on the Eastern Front and the British elsewhere. The British and the Soviets took off Shah “Reda Pahlawi”, a Nazi loyalist, and replaced him by his 22-year-old son, “Mohammad Reda Pahlawi”, as the Shah of Iran.

During the war, Iran was used as an ammunition corridor to the Soviet Union. US forces have also entered the country to replace the British in operating the southern part of the railways through Iran.

After War World II

Iranian and Arabian oil remained under British control for the duration of the war and beyond. Britain had the right to explore through “British Petroleum” company, which many Iranian politicians saw as a drain on Iranian wealth. During the years of World War II and beyond, Tehran was the scene of fierce battles among Western intelligence services struggling on her land.

Internally, Iran was experiencing a political struggle when the Iranian National Bloc Party succeeded in the parliamentary elections, thus it had the right to form a government after the approval of parliament. This was the case when the Shah agreed to appoint “Dr. Mossadegh”, While Shah “Mohammad Reda Pahlawi” was shy young at the beginning of his reign, but he had begun to intervene in the political arena, contrary to the desire of the Prime Minister, who was in favor of the direction of limiting the powers of the Shah and thus the crash happened between the two sides.

The Coup

  • The coup against the “Mossadegh” government in Iran in 1953 is a classic example of CIA planning to achieve an essentially economic goal – Iran’s oil, which Britain badly needed – and America feared its oil concessions in the Gulf states would repeat the experience of nationalization.


  • “Mossadegh” adopted an ambitious policy aimed at nationalizing the oil industry in Iran, which was highly welcomed by the Iranians and some parties, such as the Communist Party of “Tudeh”, which was closely related to Moscow at the time.


  • In 1951 “Mossadegh” nationalized the “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company”, owned by British companies, with the support of the Iranian Council. Iran’s oil was Britain’s largest offshore investment.


  • Despite the popular support for “Mossadegh”, Britain did not accept the negotiation of its most valuable possessions overseas, and a global economic boycott of Iranian oil began to pressure Iran economically. For the Americans, “Mossadegh’s” move was a dangerous precedent that other oil-producing countries could imitate, which in turn will lose the US influence and profits.


  • At first, Britain moved its armed forces to seize the Abadan refinery, the world’s largest refinery, but Prime Minister “Clinty Atley” preferred instead to tighten the economic boycott and at the same time used Iranian agents to undermine the “Mossadegh” government.


  • After the change of governments of Britain and the United States, “Churchill” and the administration of President “Dwight D. Eisenhower” agreed to overthrow the government of Iran, although the administration of former US President “Harry Truman” had opposed the idea of the coup.


  • The CIA pressured the weak Iranian king as it bribed street thugs, sheikhs, politicians, and Iranian military officers to participate in the campaign against “Mossadegh” and his government.


  • At first, the coup appeared to be a failure, when the colonel in the Imperial Guard Neema-Allah Nasiri was arrested while trying to arrest Mossadegh on the night of August 15-16, and the Shah fled the country the next day.


  • On August 19, a pro-Shah-driven gang, driven by the CIA, moved into “Mossadegh” residence.


  • According to CIA documents revealed 30 years later, some of the most dangerous and most serious Tehran criminals were hired by the CIA to carry out pro-Shah unrest on August 19.


  • Other CIA-inspired men were brought to Tehran by bus and truck and took control of the streets and the city.


  • “Mossadegh” was arrested, tried and convicted of treason before a military court.


  • On December 21, 1953, “Mossadegh” was sentenced to three years in prison and then placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. “Mossadegh’s” supporters were arrested, imprisoned, tortured or executed.


  • Following the coup, Britain and the US choose “Fadlullah Zahedi” to become the next Prime Minister at the head of a Military Government, and then the Shah expelled him after two years.


  • The Shah “Pahlawi” ruled as an authoritarian monarch for the next 26 years until he was overthrown in a popular revolution in 1979.


  • The perceived advantages of the United States from toppling the elected government of Iran were a share of Iran’s oil wealth, as well as the absolute prevention of even a slight possibility of aligning the Iranian government with the Soviet Union, although the latter motive still generates much debate among historians.


  • Washington has consistently supplied the unpopular Shah with weapons and the CIA trained his secret police.


  • The coup is widely believed to have contributed significantly to the development of anti-American sentiment in Iran and the Middle East.


  • In 1979, the Iranian revolution overthrew the Shah and replaced the Western-backed monarchical dictatorship for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The consequences


The direct result of the coup was the suppression of all forms of political opposition, especially the liberal and nationalist opposition group known as the National bloc as well as the Tudeh (Communist) Party, and the concentration of political forces in the hands of the Shah and his retinue.


“Eisenhower’s” administration believed that its actions were justified for strategic reasons, but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. It is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.

In June 2009, US President “Barack Obama” in his speech in Cairo, Egypt, talked about US relations with Iran, referring to the role of the United States in the Iranian coup 1953, saying:

  • “This has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For years, Iran has known itself partly through its opposition to my country, and there is already a long history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in hostage-taking and violence against US forces and civilians. This date is known. Instead of remaining entangled in the past, I have made it clear to the leaders and people of Iran that my country is ready to move forward”.



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  39. ^A short account of 1953 Coup
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