Lessons for Sri Lanka

I953 US coup in Iran

| by Shenali Waduge

(September 08, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is widely believed that the success of the Iranian coup & the coup in Guatemala by the US prompted its successive leaders to follow covert action & regime change as a foreign policy. Mohammad Mossadegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. His fall is seen as the perfect example of how a rich & powerful nation can create chaos in another nation.

Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt was tasked by the CIA to head the mission to overthrow the Iranian government. The mission was called Operation Ajax.

The US & UK involvement

Why would US desire to overthrow Mossadegh since he was afterall an elected leader & popular amongst the Iranians too?

Kermit Roosevelt may have been the brainchild behind the coup itself but like in the present day scenario another country was also involved. Great Britain too had eyes on the Middle East to enhance their trade primarily through the Anglo Iranian Oil Company & the revenues generated from the sale of oil & taxes levied on Iran was over 170million pounds & 30% profits in taxes.

Will imperialists like to hear “nationalism” – not likely & when newly elected PM Mossadegh announced plans to nationalize Iranian oil production – the British determined to stop oil production & force Mossadegh to change, plot a coup & install a government friendly to British interest or take direct military action.

As the leader of Iran, Mossadegh was very much within his rights to nationalize oil that belonged to Iran & he was gentleman enough to offer compensation to the British though it had benefited all these years. Nevertheless, Britain went ahead to stop oil production creating a disastrous impact on Iranian economy & abandoned military action as they could not get sufficient troops to the area so it was left to the next option – overthrowing Mossadegh. M16 & the British Foreign Office approached the CIA &  an agreement was reached & funds from both intelligence units were used to fund the protests & bribe necessary people.

UN’s role

Instead of Iran seeking the assistance of the UN for attempts to overthrow a democratic government, it was the British that lodged a case against Iran with the United Nations Security Council & the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

So how does one create chaos in a country that has varying cultures, traditions & beliefs?

Kermit Roosevelt began by bribing members of parliament & leaders of small political groups that were partners of Mossadeghs’s coalition. Kermit Rooselvelt spent USD11,000 per week on bribing 90 members of the Iranian parliament. The average annual income in Iran was USD500. It was thus a very easy task to bribe. What ensued was not hard to fathom. Disarray in parliament.

Kermit Roosevelt next went on to bribing newspaper editors, newspaper owners, columnists & journalists. That was not so hard to do either.

Meanwhile, foreign tv channels & media carried out their role. BBC Persion Radio channel was the propaganda arm of the British Government in Iran (the channel has admitted its complicity in the Iranian overthrow – 18 August 2011). Note how perfectly this connects with the Channel 4 documentary & allegations against Sri Lanka’s armed forces. The irony is that all these admissions of guilt come far too late & after the damage to a nation & its people has been done.

The result. Within no time almost 80% of newspapers in Tehran was not only on Kermit Roosevelts payroll but they were suddenly attacking Mossadegh from all fronts. This shows how easy it is to manipulate media & how successful media is in turning the thoughts of its viewers & readers.

The next target was the religious leaders. Without surprise, the Mullahs were soon denouncing Mossadegh calling him an atheist & an enemy of Islam.

Kermit Roosevelt did not stop there. He also bribed the police & low-ranking military officers & gave them specific orders to be ready.

Having bribed politicians, newspapers & journalists, religious leaders, the police & armed forces it was easy to bribe the public & organize street protests in Tehran. This was to project that Mossadegh was not only unpopular in parliament, amongst the forces as well as even amongst the public & that he had no control over law & order in Iran. Kermit Roosevelt is said to have even hired men to run through the streets shouting “We love Mossadegh & communism”, which by way of the message being conveyed left people to automatically go against Mossadegh. With this achieved, Roosevelt hired another gang to attack the first gang to reveal that Mossadegh & communism would not be tolerated & that there was total failure of order in Iran.

This clearly depicts how even one agent can cause an entire nation to fall into disintegration with the strength of money that can win over people. A fairly stable Iran, that installed a leader democratically elected was overthrown by creating a totally wrong impression about him amongst his people.

The first coup attempt took place on 5th August 1953. An officer who had been bought over by Kermit Roosevelt arrived at Prime Minister Mossadegh’s home with an order signed by the Shah of Iran firing him as Prime Minister. This was done purposely because as a democratically elected leader only the Iranian Parliament could fire him. The gameplan was to make Mossadegh refuse to accept the order in facilitate his arrest. A CIA prepared Iranian general was ready to take over but Mossadegh who came to be informed of the plan was quick to arrest the officer while the Shah fled the country. Despite orders by the CIA to return to US, Kermit Roosevelt decided to activate his hired mobs on 19th August (2 weeks after the failed coup attempt) to cause rampage on the streets. Tens of thousands of people were paid to go out into the street & start chanting anti-Mossadegh slogans. Even paid members of the police & military joined & soon the crowds started to storm government buildings until they approached the Prime Ministers House. They say about a 100 people died inside Mossadeghs house. Mossadegh managed to flee the house & surrendered himself a few days later & the Iranian general (Major-general Fazlollah Zahedi) on the payroll of the CIA was installed as the Iranian Prime Minister. Mossadegh was tried, imprisoned for three years and kept "under house arrest at his estate" until he died in March 1967.

The Shah of Iran who was in Italy at the time on hearing of the success of the 2nd coup flew back to Iran & was received by none other than Kermit Roosevelt himself. That was how the CIA installed dictator Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi who was later toppled in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mission Succeeded Kermit Roosevelt returned to the US met with President Eisenhower & members of the US national security & weeks later he was given his second assignment – to overthrow the government of Guatemala. However, another CIA agent eventually was given the task & what happened in Iran took place in Guatemala. The cost of the Iranian overthrowing operation took USD1million.

The Iran coup was the first time the US overthrew a democratically elected government. It was a relatively low cost operation as well. Without invading & committing US troops, the US managed to oust a leader whom they disliked. This blueprint came to be used & reused in all of the regime change & covert programs that the CIA came to be involved in.

The examples given in the manner that a very popular leader in a country came to be looked upon as an enemy before the very people that looked upto him spells clear dangers of what is at stake for not only Sri Lanka but any nation that the US looks to target.

Bribing state officials, private entities & even the public was a simple endeavor & just one single CIA agent succeeded to oust a government & cause chaos to an entire nation. Two countries that invoke “democracy – democratic ideals” ended up overthrowing a magnanimous leader & opening the doors to fundamentalism in Iran. No international body cared to point fingers at the wrongdoers instead these very organizations played puppet & function in the same manner even now.

These are lessons we cannot forget ever. Mossadegh was popular, he ended up having to flee for his life, Iran was a democracy & has been turned by a supposed democratic nation towards fundamentalism, bribing always wins the day & as in Irans case even “loyalists’ turned away. We know how true this is in the manner politicians cross over. We know the people who are likely to be in the “payroll” but there are others who one cannot imagine & this professes dangers for Sri Lanka & its future.

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