Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-559fc8cf4f-q7jt5 Total loading time: 0.4 Render date: 2021-02-25T11:57:23.326Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 January 2009

Mark J. Gasiorowski
Department of Political Science Louistana State University


In retrospect, the United States sponsored coup d'état in Iran of August 19, 1953, has emerged as a critical event in postwar world history. The government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq which was ousted in the coup was the last popular, democratically oriented government to hold office in Iran. The regime replacing it was a dictatorship that suppressed all forms of popular political activity, producing tensions that contributed greatly to the 1978–1979 Iranian revolution. If Mosaddeq had not been overthrown, the revolution might not have occurred. The 1953 coup also marked the first peacetime use of covert action by the United States to overthrow a foreign government. As such, it was an important precedent for events like the 1954 coup in Guatemala and the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, and made the United States a key target of the Iranian revolution.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1987

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Authors' note: I would like to thank Peter Avery, Edward Azar, Carol Bargeron, Richard Cottam, Fred Halliday, Homa Katouzian, Nikki Keddie, Hedayat Matin-Daftari, Nasser Pakdaman, Bill Royce, Khosrow Shakeri, and several people who must remain unnamed for their valuable assistance and for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

1 Kermit Roosevelt, the leader of the coup, was asked to undertake similar operations against Arbenz in Guatemala and Nasser in Egypt. See The Los Angeles Times, 03 29, 1979, 58.Google Scholar At least one participant in the coup went on to achieve considerable notoriety with similar operations in Syria, Nepal, and Vietnam. See The Wall Street Journal, 10 19, 1979, p. 1Google Scholar. No less an authority than Richard Helms, CIA director from 1965 until 1973, described the 1953 coup to me as an important model for CIA covert operations elsewhere (telephone interview, Washington, D.C., July 26, 1984).

2 Roosevelt, Kermit, Countercoup (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979).Google Scholar For a good discussion of the flaws in this account see the reviews by Cottam, Richard, in Iranian Studies, 14, 2–4 (SummerAutumn 1981), 269–72,CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Powers, Thomas, in The Nation, April 12, 1980, 437–40.Google Scholar The first public account of the coup in the American press was leaked by the CIA during the 1954 U.S. elections. See Richard, and Harkness, Gladys, “The Mysterious Doings of CIA,” Saturday Evening Post, 11 6, 1954, 6668.Google Scholar Incomeplete accounts are also given by Tully, Andrew, CIA, the Inside Story (New York, Morrow, 1962), ch. 7;Google ScholarRubin, Barry, Paved With Good Intentins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 7788;Google ScholarWoodhouse, Christopher Montague, Something Ventured (London, Granada, 1982), chs. 8–9;Google ScholarZabih, Sepehr, The Mosaddeq Era (Chicago: Lake View Press, 1982), ch.8;Google Scholar and Kwitney, Jonathon, Endless Enemies (New York, Congdon & Weed, 1984), ch. 10 Each of these omits many key details. A highly fictionalized and romanticized account by a key participant is Ardeshir Zahedi, Five Decisive Days (unpublished manuscript, n.d.). This is an English translation of an article published in the Iranian newspaper Ettela'at soon after the coup.Google Scholar

3 The main diplomatic records used for this study are those available at the U.S. National Archives and the British Public Records Office. The people interviewed include all but one of the CIA officers directly involved in the coup who are alive today (one refused to speak on the subject), five CIA officers who worked on Iran at CIA headquarters in Washington at the time of the coup, two of the three most senior U.S. foreign service officers in Iran at the time (the third, Ambassador Loy Henderson, is now dead), two other foreign service officers and the U.S. Naval Attaché stationed in Tehran at the time, the two Assistant Secretaries of State with responsibility for the Middle East in 1951–1953, two of the key British participants, and many knowledgeable Iranians. These interviews were conducted by the author between the summer of 1983 and the summer of 1985. Because of the sensitive nature of this topic, the names of many key sources and participants cannot be revealed. Except where noted, all details reported here that were obtained in interviews have been corroborated with a second source to ensure their accuracy.Google Scholar

4 On Iranian politics in this period see Cottam, Richard W., Nationalism in Iran (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979), chs. 13–15;Google Scholar and Abrahamian, Ervand, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), chs. 4–5.Google Scholar On the oil dispute see Elwell-Sutton, L. P., Persian Oil: A Study in Power Politics (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1955).Google Scholar

5 On the composition of the National Front see Young, T. Cuyler, “The Social Support of Current Iranian Policy”, Middle East Journal, 6, 3 (Spring 1952), 125–43.Google Scholar

6 Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, pp. 250–67.Google Scholar

7 For the most complete account of British policy toward Iran in this period see Elwell-Sutton, , Persian Oil, esp. chs. 16–18.Google Scholar

9 Acheson, Dean, Present at the Creation (New York: Norton, 1969), p. 507.Google Scholar

10 “Reports Persians Trying to Recruit Oil Technicians,” 20 August 1951, FO/371/91579 (sources referenced in this way are from the Public Records Office in London); “Exports to Persia,” 17 December 1951, FO/371/98634; “Monthly Economic Report,” September 25, 1951, Record Group 59, Box 5490 (sources referenced in this way are from the National Archives in Washington); “Financial Restrictions on Persia,” 12 September 1951, FO/371/91491; Elwell-Sutton, Persian Oil, p. 257.

11 Documentary evidence on the British net is fragmentary, but gives some indication of its depth. See, for example, “Les Follies Imperiales,” 18 March 1952, FO/248/1541. This is a report by the British Chargé and the top M16 officer in Tehran on the Shah's most intimate views, as recounted to them by his confidant Ernst Perron. “Action in the Persian Situation Advocated by M. Kaivan,” 3 July 1951, FO/371/91461, gives a list of pro-British political figures obtained from a British agent in the Iranian labor movement. For a description of this agent's network see “Trade Unions in Persia,” 6 January 1952, FO/371/98731. The Rashidians are referred to as “the brothers” in the account of these events by Woodhouse, Something Ventured, chs. 8, 9.Google Scholar

12 “Record of Interdepartmental Meeting,” 20 March 1951, FO/371/91525; “Political Situation,” 28 April 1951, FO/371/91457; “Notes of a Meeting to Discuss Persia,” 28 June 1951, FO/371/91555.Google Scholar

13 “Records Conversation with Miss Lambton,” 15 June 1951, FO/371/91548; “Discusses the Position in Persia,” 21 June 1951, FO/371/91550.Google Scholar

14 “American Assistance to the Persian Oil Dispute,” 2 July 1951, FO/371/91559; “Persia Oil Dispute: Views of Mr. Horace Emery,” 12 July 1951, FO/371/91570; “Persian Oil Situation,” 21 June 1951, FO/371/91565.Google Scholar

15 “Reports Conversation with the Shah on 30th June,” 2 July 1951, FO/371/91461; “Reports on Conversation with the Shah,” 16 July 1951, FO/371/91462; “Record of a Luncheon Party Given by the Shah,” 5 August 1951, FO/371/91577.Google Scholar

16 “Encloses Short Account of Talks,” 1 September 1951, FO/371/91584; “View that HMG Should Refrain From Any Statement,” 26 August 1951, FO/371/91582.Google Scholar

17 The New York Times, August 27, 1951, 12:2, September 3, 1951, 1:6; “Approach to a New Persian Government,” 8 September 1951, FO/371/91590; “Change of Government,” 4 September 1951, FO/371/91587; “Suggests Lines to be Taken to Prevent Complete Nationalization,” 5 September 1951, FO/371/91587.Google Scholar

18 “Assessment of the State of Public Opinion,” 4 September 1951, FO/371/91463; “Departmental Comments,” 19 November 1951, FO/371/91614; The New York Times, September 10, 1951, 1:7. Shepherd's report was heatedly disputed by Stokes, who argued that “mucking about with discredited old men…will get us nowhere.” See “Note by the Lord Privy Seal,” 22 September 1951, FO/371/91590. In fact, the Shah had recently told Shepherd that he preferred Qavam to Sayyid Zia, and on September 17 stated that Mosaddeq could not be replaced at that time. See “Discusses the Shah's Preference in Regards to a Prime Minister to Succeed Mosaddeq,” 31 Sugust 1951, FO/371/91462; and /Record of a Conversation with the Shah on 17th Sept.,” 18 September 1951, FO/371/91463. Not surprisingly, Shepherd was soon given another post.Google Scholar

19 “Text of State Department's Views,” 21 September 1951, FO/371/91589.Google Scholar

20 “Text of Reply From President Truman,” 26 September 1951, FO/371/91591; “Persian Oil Dispute,” 28 September 1951, FO/371/91592; “Draft Telegram to Tehran,” 27 September 1951, FO/371/91592; “Record of a Conversation with the American Ambassador,” 1 October; 1951, FO/371/91596; CAB 128/20, pp. 231–34 (British cabinet records). The subordination of the Iranian commander and the plan to invade Abadan were recounted to me by a retired M16 officer involved in these events in a January 1985 interview. Kermit Roosevelt, CIA operations deputy for the Middle East, was aware of these activities at the time, and confirms the critical role played by Truman (personal interview, Washington, D.C., June 5, 1985). Roosevelt was also aware of the British plots with Qavam and Zahedi described below, but did not discuss them with the British at the time. The United States had also expressed strong opposition to British plans to use military force in Iran in May 1951. See “The Position of the United States With Respect to Iran, NSC Action No. 473,” May 17, 1951, Record Group 59, Box 4107.Google Scholar

21 “Qavam's Proposals,” 7 January 1952, FO/371/98683; “Intervention of Mr. Julian Amery,” 7 Febrary 1952, FO/371/98683; “Qavam's Proposals,” 25 March 1952, FO/371/98683; interview with Sir George Middleton, London, January 16, 1985; “Internal Situation,” n.d., FO/248/1531. Qavam also approached the U.S. Embassy for support as early as October 1951. See Richards to Acheson, October 30, 1951, Record Group 84, Box 29.Google Scholar

22 Ibid.; Acheson to Henderson, June 16, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29.

23 “Internal Situation.” On Kashani, see Richard, Yann, “Ayatollah Kashani: Precursor of the Islamic Republic?” in Keddie, Nikki R., ed., Religion and Politics in Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 101–24.Google Scholar

24 Henderson to Acheson, August 3, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29. Ample evidence that the British were not yet ready for Qavam to assume the premiership is contained in “Internal Situation.”Google Scholar

25 “Annual Report on Persian Army for 1952,” 12 September 1952, FO/371/98638; “Internal Situation.”Google Scholar

26 Ibid.; The New York Times, August 15, 1952, 2:8, August 20, 1952, 1:1; Henderson to Acheson, August 3, 4, 15, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29; “Recent Developments in Pan-Iranism,” July 1, 1952, Record Group 59, Box 4109; “Article by Brigadier Fitzroy Maclean, M.P.,” 27 August 1953, FO/371/104570. This article is from The Listener, August 27, 1953.Google Scholar See also Maclean, Fitzroy, Eastern Approaches (London: Jonathan Cape, 1950), p. 266.Google Scholar

27 Henderson to Acheson, July 17 and 21 and October 17, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29.Google Scholar

28 “lnternal Situation.” Kashani was also intriguing with the Tudeh at this time. In a 90-minute meeting in late September, Tudeh leaders reportedly agreed to back Kashani for the premiership in exchange for a promise to expel U.S. military advisors, close U.S. consulates in Iran, and restrict the movement of U.S. citizens in northern Iran. See Henderson to Acheson, September 28, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 42.Google Scholar Kashani was also reported to have taken money from the Tudeh. See “Internal Situation.” Kashani was quoted by a Time reporter as saying “since the Tudeh party is fighting against imperialism, they are with us.” See “The TIME Correspondent's Interview with Ayatollah KASHANI,” October 18, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 129. Apparently believing that Kashani was trying to seize power with Tudeh help, a Special Estimate was prepared by the CIA on Mosaddeq's chances of remaining n office. See “Prospects for Survival of Mosaddeq Regime in Iran,” SE-33, 14 October 1952. Sayyid Zia told a British embassy officer on October 12 that Kashani was supporting Zahedi with the intention ofs eventually deposing him and seizing power himself. See “Internal Situation.”Google Scholar

29 Ibid.; “Tribal Affairs and Tribal Policy,” nd., FO/248/1521; Middleton interview (London, January 16, 1985); Henderson to Acheson, September 9, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29. Zahedi is not named in the latter telegram, but it clearly refers to him. The supply of arms to the Bakhtiari was related by a confidential source in a January 1985 interview and is confirmed in “Intrigues Among the Bakhtiari Tribes,” November 28, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 28. Since the early 1900s, Britain had maintained close ties with most of the Bakhtiari khans, whom they paid to protect the oilfields. Abul Qasem Bakhtiari was not pro-British; rather, he was regarded as a “troublemaker” by the British and their Bakhtiari allies for inciting tribesmen against the other khans. See “Tribal Affairs and Tribal Policy.”

30 New York Times, 10 13, 1952, 4:1; October 16, 1952, 6:4; “Annual Report on Persian Army for 1952,” 9 December 1952, FO/371/98638. It seems unlikely that Zahedi was prepared to act against Mosaddeq at the time of these arrests. One indication of this is that the M16 officer in charge of the Rashidians was in London on leave at this time (confidential interview with an associate of this officer, January 1985).Google Scholar

31 Much of the material presented in this and the following section was obtained in interviews with participants in these events. Except where indicated, all material provided by these sources was corroborated with at least one additional source. Since these sources spoke to me on a confidential basis, they are not named here. In order to establish the veracity of this account, confidential sources for certain critical events are identified below by the roles they played rather than by name.

32 See U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Documents Resulting From Conversations with the British in Regard to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, JCS 1819, November 25, 1947.Google Scholar

33 U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Vol. V. The Near East, South Asia, and Africa (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1978), pp. 491–99, 510, 523.Google Scholar

34 Ibid., pp. 509–29, 551, 604; U.S. Department of State, Bulletin, 22, 570, June 5, 1950, 922;Google ScholarWarne, William E., Mission for Peace: Point Four in Iran (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), p. 18.Google Scholar

35 U.S. Department of State, Bulletin, 24, 622, June 4, 1951, 891, and 25, 630, July 23, 1951, 131.Google Scholar

36 See the discussion below on the BEDAMN program. On CIA covert action under Truman see Cline, Ray S., The CIA Under Reagan, Bush, and Casey (Washington: Acropolis Books, 1981), pp. 119–26. The Truman administration's opposition to the use of covert action against Mosaddeq was emphasized to me in interviews with the two Assistant Secretaries of State responsible for the Middle East at this time: William Rountree (Maggie Valley, NC, August 25, 1984), and Henry Byroade (Potomac, Md., August 7, 1984).Google Scholar

37 Conversations of this sort occurred frequently between embassy and intelligence officials stationed in Tehran. Higher level talks were first held in Washington in May 1952, as the British were plotting to install Qavam. A British specialist on Iran discussed with State Department officials a list of 18 possible candidates, including both Qavam and Zahedi. See U.S. Department of State, “Memorandum of Conversation, Subject: Iran,” May 16, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29. On July 29, shortly after the tumultuous Qavam episode, similar talks were held in which at least one U.S. official “was perfectly willing that the possibility of a coup should be examined.” See “Anglo-U.S. Discussions About the Persian Internal Situation and the Oil Question,” 29 July 1952, FO/371/98691. These events were confirmed in my interview with Byroade. U.S. discussions with the British about these matters appear to have been aimed at maintaining liaison rather than influencing British policy.Google Scholar

38 National Security Council, National Security Problems Concerning Free World Petroleum Demands and Potential Supplies, NSC 138, December 8, 1952, pp. 9–10.Google Scholar

39 Alexander, Yonah and Nanes, Allen, eds., The United States and Iran: A Documentary History (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1980), pp. 215–17;Google ScholarThe New York Times, 05 22, 1951, 24:4Google Scholar; “Washington Talks,” 10 April 1951, FO/371/91470; “Reports Discussion with MrAcheson, ,” 17 May, 1951, FO/371/91535; “Comments on Grady's Interference,” 6 June 1951, FO/371/91545.Google Scholar

40 Acheson, , Present at the Creation, pp. 507–8; “Message from S. of S.,” 10 September 1951, FO/371/91463; “Text of State Department's Views,” 21 September 1951, FO/371/91589; “Persian Oil Dispute,” 28 September 1951, FO/371/91592.Google Scholar

41 McGhee, George, Envoy to the Middle World (New York: Harper and Row, 1983), ch. 31;Google ScholarAcheson, Present at the Creation, pp. 509–11; “Record of Talks,” 4 October 1951, FO/371/91595; “American Proposal that the Royal Dutch/Shell Group Should Take Over and Operate the Abadan Refinery Considered Impractical,” 6 November 1951, FO/371/91610; interview with Paul Nitze, Washington, D.C., July 5, 1984.Google Scholar

42 This general description of CIA activities in Iran and that of the BEDAMN program in the next few paragraphs were pieced together from interviews with seven former CIA officers who were active in Iran in this period. For a feasibility study of stay-behind networks in the Qashqai region see “United States Attitude Toward Formation of ‘Free Government’ in Iran,” Record Group 59, Box 6980a, October 14, 1948. The CIA was also engaged in routine intelligence-gathering activities in Iran at this time. This involved maintaining contact with a broad cross-section of Iranian political figures, monitoring the Iranian press, meeting with allied intelligence officers, etc.

43 A particularly effective project carried out under BEDAMN was the production of a fictionalized autobiography of the Iranian poet and Tudeh member Abul Qasem Lahuti, who was living in the Soviet Union. Although Lahuti subsequently denounced the forgery over Radio Moscow, many Iranians still believe it to be accurate. The figure of $1 million was related to me by one former participant in this program in an August 1983 interview.

44 One such operation was the organizing of a “fake” Tudeh attack on the Harriman mission in the summer of 1951. See Roosevelt, , Countercoup, p. 95.Google Scholar Several people were killed in the ensuing riots, which were blamed on the Tudeh. Roosevelt believes that this operation may have been carried out by Nerren, and Cilley, , without the approval of their CIA superiors (Roosevelt interview).Google Scholar

45 Kermit Roosevelt believes that these other figures may have been approached, but cannot say this with certainty (Roosevelt interview). I was unable to confirm or disprove this in interviews with other participants in these events. All other details related in this paragraph were obtained from the sources described in footnote 42 and confirmed independently by at least one additional source.

46 The split in the Toilers' party occurred on October 12, 1952. British embassy officials were aware of U.S. support for Baqai at this time. See “Internal Situation,” n.d., FO/248/1531. On the split in the Pan-Iranist party see “The Friendly Relationship …” 10 June 1053, FO/371/104568, and “Pan-Iranism: The Ultimate in Iranian Nationalism,” February 6, 1952, Record Group 84, Box 29. The latter document refers to a “mysterious mastermind” directing the Pan-Iranists, whom one knowledgeable CIA figure believes was the CIA director of BEDAMN (August 1983 interview). The Soviets were apparently aware of these activities. In early August 1953, a statement was made on Radio Moscow that the United States had armed Baqai and his followers. See “Visit of General Schwartzkopf to Persia,” 6 August 1953, FO/371/104569. The Iran party, Mosaddeq's strongest supporters in the National Front, had even split by the end of 1952. See “Iternal Affairs,” 24 April 1953, FO/371/104567.

47 C1A covert operations were authorized under National Security Council Directive NSC-10/2, which permitted activities “against hostile foreign states or groups or in support of friendly foreign states or groups.” See Leary, William M., ed., The Central Intelligence Agency: History and Documents (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1984), p. 132.Google Scholar In the parlance of the time, this meant that covert action could be used against the Soviet Union and its allies. See Cline, , The CIA Under Reagan, Bush, and Casey, pp. 119–26Google Scholar. While the anti-Soviet and anti-Tudeh activities carried out under BEDAMN clearly fell within these guidelines, activities against the National Front clearly did not, since the National Front was not regarded as communist or pro-Soviet. It therefore seems unlikely that this component of BEDAMN would have been authorized by the CIA Director or his top deputies. My assumption is that it originated either with the director of the BEDAMN program or with the head of Near East operations.

48 Woodhouse, , Something Ventured, pp. 116–19.Google Scholar

49 Ibid.; Roosevelt interview; Byroade interview. The quotation of the station chief's view was related to me by a retired CIA officer in an August 1983 interview; this officer claims to remember it from a telegram written at the time.

50 “Intrigues Among the Bakhtiari Tribes” Henderson to Acheson, January 18, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4115; Henderson to Acheson, January 19, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4117. See also articles in The New York Times for this period. The Majlis vote was on a bill to extend Mosaddeq's emergency powers.Google Scholar

51 “lnternal Affairs,” 18 February 1953, FO/371/104562; “Internal Affairs,” 24 February 1953, FO/371/104562; “Internal Affairs,” 28 February 1953, FO/371/ 104563; “Internal Affairs,” 1 March 1953, FO/371/ 104562; “Dr. Musaddiq's Quarrel with the Shah,” 23 February 1953, FO/371/104563; “An Assessment of the Internal Situation in Persia,” 2 March 1953, FO/371/ 104563; “Internal Affairs,” 10 March 1953, FO/371/10463; “The Friendly Relationship…” The British embassy was, of course, closed at this time. Material in the British files on this period was obtained primarily from U.S. and Commonwealth sources.

52 The role of M16 is described in Iran Times, May 31, 1985, I. See also “The Murder of the Persian Chief of Police Afshartus,” 24 April 1953, FO/371/104565; “The Murder of Chief of Police Afshartus,” 8 May 1953, FO/371/104566; “Summary for the Period April 30-May 13, 1953, ” 23 June 1953, FO/371/104568.

53 “lnternal Situation,” n.d., FO/371/10463; “Internal Affairs” The New York Times, 03 10, 1953, 12:2, and March 10, 1953, 4:5; “Change of Government Tribal Administration,” 10 April 1953, FO/371/104565; “Internal Situation,” 13 August 1953, FO/371/104569; “Iranian Political Trends …” April 24, 1953.Google Scholar

54 See “Iranian Political Developments from the End of March to the Overthrow of the Mosadeq Regime…,” October 28 1953; and Cottam, , Nationalism in Iran, pp. 277–82.Google Scholar

55 Roosevelt interview. The February meeting is described in Roosevelt, , Countercoup, pp. 120–24. For U.S. views on Zahedi see Department of State, “Memorandum of Conversation, Subject: Iran.”Google Scholar

56 These events and the outline of the original coup plan given in the next paragraph were recounted to me by the American Iran specialist in an August 1984 interview.

57 The events of this period are fairly well covered in The New York Times. See also “Dr. Musaddiq's Move to Dissolve the Majlis,” 21 July 1953, FO/371/104569; “Dissolution of the 17th Majlis,” 4 August 1953, FO/371/104569; USARMA Tehran to DEPTAR, WASH DC, 3 March 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4113; “Political Events July 25–31, 1953,” July 31, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4110.

58 These quotes are from confidential interviews conducted in July and August of 1984. One activity undertaken through BEDAMN at this time was a propaganda campaign to portray Mosaddeq as having Jewish ancestry.

59 Mosaddeq later charged that this Majlis unrest was the work of foreign agents. See “Prime Minister's Radio Address of July 27, 1953,” July 28, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4116. Six new anti-Mosaddeq newspapers suddenly appeared in Tehran at this time. U.S. embassy officials, unaware of the CIA's activities, were suspicious about the source of funding for these newspapers. See USARMA Tehran to DEPTAR, 3 March 1953.

60 “Ambassador Henderson's Report,” 2 June 1953, FO/371/104659.Google Scholar

61 This account is from a confidential interview with the colonel, conducted in March 1984. For Ashraf's account of these events see Pahlavi, Princess Ashraf, Faces in a Mirror (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1980), pp. 134–40.Google Scholar

62 Roosevelt, , Countercoup, pp. 147–49, 156–57.Google Scholar

63 The details of the coup presented in this and the following paragraphs are based on my interviews with key participants and on New York Times articles from this period. Many people argue that the handwriting on the firman indicates that it had been drafted on a blank sheet of paper that had previously been signed by the Shah. The Tudeh party had evidently infiltrated the network of officers recruited for AJAX; details of the coup plan were reported by Tass on July 15 and in Tudeh newspapers as early as August 13. See “Dr. Musaddiq's Move to Dissolve the Majlis”; “Persian Army Officers Attempt to Overthrow Dr. Musaddiq,” 16 August 1953, FO/371/104569. In Baghdad, the Shah asked the U.S. ambassador whether he should publicly express opposition to Mosaddeq. See “Situation in Persia,” 19 August1953, FO/371/104570. The Shah's ultimate destination apparently was London. See The New York Times, 08 19, 1953, 1:34.Google Scholar

64 One participant in these events claims that Nerren and Cilley wanted to end their involvement in AJAX at this point, but were persuaded to remain by Roosevelt, who threatened to have them killed (Augst 1983 interview). The role of the two reporters is described in Love, Kennett, “The American Role in the Pahlavi Restoration On 19 August 1953” (unpublished manuscript, The Allen Dulles Papers, Princeton University Library, 1960).Google Scholar

65 The New York Times, 08 19, 1953, 1:34;Google Scholar U.S. Senate, House, Committee on Affairs, Foreign, The Mutual Security Act of 1954, Hearings, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, April 3, 1954, pp. 503–4, 509.Google ScholarZahedi, Ardeshir, in Five Decisive Days, pp. 4162Google Scholar, describes an elaborate plan formulated after the arrest of Nassiri to set up an independent state called “Free Iran” near Kermanshah. Local army and air force units were to establish a base from which to seek control over the whole country. Key oil and rail installations in Tehran were to have been sabotaged to create a diversion. While a number of plans were discussed by the American and Iranian conspirators, none of the CIA sources I interviewed could recall such a plan.

66 The CIA role in organizing this “fake” Tudeh crowd, which played a critical role in the coup and is not discussed in other published accounts, was confirmed to me in interviews with at least five CIA participants. One retired CIA officer told me that the station later learned from its Tudeh informants that the Tudeh's decision to pull its crowds off the streets came after it realized that the original crowd was a “fake” (August 1983 interview). Several of my sources indicated that Nerren and Cilley may have used their contacts with leaders of the Pan-Iranists to mobilize part of this crowd. This is consistent with the observation by U.S. embassy personnel that this crowd contained “an unusual mixture of Pan-Iranists. and Tudeh” members. See Mattison to Dulles, August 17, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 4110. Henderson's conversation with Mosaddeq is described in his 1972 interview with the Columbia University Oral History Research Office (pp. 15–18). The Tudeh later reevaluated its role in these events and concluded that it should have been more supportive of Mosaddeq. See Zabih, Sepehr, The Communist Movement in Iran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 219–21.Google Scholar

67 A report of the plan to organize demonstrations on Friday appeared several weeks later in The Times of India. See “Transmits a Further Series of Articles,” 16 June 1953, FO/371/104568. One CIA participant told me in an August 1983 interview that by Wednesday Mosaddeq's forces had located the general neighborhood where Zahedi was hiding and were preparing to seize him. Neither of the CIA officers who delivered the money to Aramesh could confirm to me that it went to Kashani; both, however, believe that it did (August 1983 and March 1984 interviews). Several days after the coup the British received a report from the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran that the Shah and Zahedi together had visited Kashani, kissed his hands, and thanked him for his help in restoring the monarchy. See “An Account of Conversation,” 1 September 1953, FO/371/104571. One CIA officer told me that Kashani's son visited him several times after the coup to remind him of the role played by his father (July 1984 interview). An observer of the coup reported later that so much American currency had found its way into the bazaar that the black market exchange rate fell from over 100 rials to the dollar to under 50. See Love, “The American Role in the Pahlavi Restoration,” pp. 4041. All of the people involved either directly or indirectly in the coup whom I spoke to believe that the Aramesh—Kashani connection was not the only source of funding for the crowds that appeared on August 19. Most of these sources assume that the other figures mentioned here were also involved, though none could confirm this positively.Google Scholar

68 See, e.g., Joyce, and Kolko, Gabriel, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 19451–954 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), pp. 412–20;Google Scholar and Nirumand, Bahman, Iran: The New Imperialism in Action (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), p. 5.Google Scholar

69 See Ambrose, Stephen E., Eisenhower, Volume One (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), chs. 26–27;Google Scholar and Eisenhower, Dwight D., The White House Years: Mandate For Change, 1953–1956 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963), chs. 5–6, esp. p. 163Google Scholar. One top policymaker described the plan to overthrow Mosaddeq to me as a “high priority” for the Dulles brothers (Roosevelt interview).

70 See U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, The International Petroleum Cartel, The Iranian Consortium and U. S. National Security, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session, February 21, 1974, pp. 2728;Google Scholar and Kaufman, Burton I., The Oil Cartel Case: A Documentary Study of Antitrust Activity in the Cold War Era (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978), chs. 2–3.Google Scholar

71 Byroade interview; interviews with Gordon Mattison (Bethesda, MD, June 30, 1984) and Roy Melbourne (Chapel Hill, NC, February 1, 1984). Byroade and Henderson both went along with the coup reluctantly, according to these sources. Central Intelligence Agency, Probable Developments in Iran Through 1953, NIE-75, 13 November 1952 (this document was obtained from the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act);Google Scholar Department of State, Office of Intelligence and Research, Iran's Political and Economic Prospects Through 1953, OIR No. 6126, January 9, 1953;Google ScholarNational Security Council, United States Policy Regarding the Present Situation in Iran, NSC 136/l, November 20, 1952. The Tudeh's “popular front” strategy was described to me in a confidential interview with the CIA desk officer for Iran at this time (July 1984). The original proponents of the coup seem to have been the Dulles brothers, Wisner, and Roosevelt.Google Scholar

72 Although the coup is widely portrayed as the culmination of a struggle for power between Mosaddeq and the Shah, I found no evidence that the Shah took an active role in any of the events that led to Mosaddeq's overthrow, other than to give it his reluctant approval. The U.S. and British diplomatic records are full of references to the Shah's weakness and indecision in this period. Indeed, Zahedi was selected by U.S. and British officials rather than by the Shah, and they had to go to great lengths to persuade him to cooperate.

73 This figure refers to the payment used to hire the “fake” Tudeh crowd and that given to Aramesh. In addition, an indeterminate amount of money from the normal operating budget of BEDAMN ($1 million per year) was used to pay for the disturbances that immediately preceded the coup. This figure compares favorably with Roosevelt's statement that the entire cost was under $100,000 (Countercoup, p. 166). After the coup, roughly $1 million that ad been provided for AJAX but not spent was given by Roosevelt to Zahedi or the Shah to meet government expenses (Roosevelt interview).

74 Kashani's support in the Tehran bazaar, once his greatest stronghold, had declined considerably by the summer of 1953. See “Comments on the Political Significance of the Tehran Bazaar Organization,” 19 December 1953, FO/371/109986.Google Scholar

75 This view was expressed to me by Anthony Cuomo, the U.S. embassy officer responsible for monitoring the Tudeh in Tehran at this time (personal interview, Rome, January 5, 1985). Much the same was said by several CIA officers stationed in Tehran at the time.Google Scholar

76 See footnote 71. The CIA had penetrated the Tudeh party at a very high level at this time and was intercepting all of the orders given to its cadres, so these reports can be regarded as very accurate.

77 “Monthly Economic Report,” November 2, 1951, “Quarterly Economic and Financial Review, Iran, Fourth Quarter 1952,” January 17, 1953, “Quarterly Economic and Financial Review, Iran, First Quarter, 1953,” April 17, 1953, “Quarterly Economic and Financial Review, Iran, Second Quarter, 1953,” July 18, 1953, “Monthly Economic Survey, Iran, April 1953,” May 12, 1953, and “Monthly Economic Survey, Iran, July 1953,” August 14, 1953, Record Group 59, Box 5490. See also Katouzian, Homa, “The Strategy of Non-Oil Economics: Economic Policy and Performance under Musaddiq” (paper presented at the Conference on Iranian Nationalism and the International Oil Crisis, 1951–1954, University of Texas, Austin, September 26–27, 1985).Google Scholar

78 Roosevelt, , Countercoup, p. 199.Google Scholar

79 “Internal Situation Reports,”n.d., FO/371/104571; “olitical and Economic Developments in Iran,”19 November 1953, FO/371/104572; “Comments on the Political Significance of the Tehran Bazaar Organization” “Kashani's Press Conference on Dec. 5,” 9 December 1953, FO/371/104572; Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, pp. 457–59; “Fortnightly Political Summary, Nov. 16-Nov. 29,”1 January 1954, FO/371/109985; “Fortnightly Political Summary, Period August 21-September 6,” 8 September 1954, FO/371/109985; “Fortnightly Summary for the Period March 13-March 26th,”26 March 1954, FO/371/109985.

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 644 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th February 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

The 1953 Coup D'Etat in Iran
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *