Thursday, February 3, 2011

Operation Ajax Redux

With the appearance of Mubarak's goons (naively described on SBS TV News tonight as simply "demonstrators loyal to Hosni Mubarak") attacking protesters with molotov cocktails and guns in Cairo's Tahrir Square, you don't have to be the proverbial rocket scientist to know that a counter-revolutionary plot of some kind has been hatched in the back rooms of Washington, Tel Aviv and Cairo.

To understand something of its dimensions, it is well to bear in mind my adaptation of Dr Phil's immortal advice: the best indicator of present American skullduggery is past American skullduggery.

Which brings us to the need for a working knowledge of Operation Ajax, the successful CIA-engineered coup against the democratically-elected government of Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. Needless to say, the only real difference between Tehran then and Cairo today is that, in the former, Mossadegh represented the will of the people, and was therefore the target of the coup, whereas in the latter the people themselves are the target.

The following account is from Stephen Kinzer's wonderful book, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (2006):

"After the National Security Council meeting in March, planning for a coup began in earnest. [CIA director] Allen Dulles, in consultation with his British counterparts, chose a retired general named Fazlollah Zahedi as titular leader of the coup. Then he sent $1 million to the CIA station in Tehran for use 'in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh'. [Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles directed the American ambassador in Tehran, Loy Henderson, to contact Iranians who might be interested in helping to carry out the coup.

"Two secret agents, Donald Wilber of the CIA and Norman Darbyshire of the British Secret Intelligence Service, spent several weeks that spring in Cyprus devising a plan for the coup. It was unlike any plan that either country, or any country, had made before. With the cold calculation of the surgeon, these agents plotted to cut Mossadegh away from his people. Under their plan, the Americans would spend $150,000 to bribe journalists, editors, Islamic preachers, and other opinion leaders to 'create, extend and enhance public hostility and distrust and fear of Mossadegh and his government'. Then they would hire thugs to carry out 'staged attacks' on religious figures and other respected Iranians, making it seem that Mossadegh had ordered them. Meanwhile, General Zahedi would be given a sum of money, later fixed at $135,000, to 'win additional friends' and 'influence key people'. The plan budgeted another $11,000 per week, a great sum at that time, to bribe members of the Iranian parliament. On 'coup day', thousands of paid demonstrators would converge on parliament to demand that it dismiss Mossadegh. Parliament would respond with a 'quasi-legal' vote to do so. If Mossadegh resisted, military units loyal to General Zahedi would arrest him. 'So this is how we get rid of that madman Mossadegh!' Secretary of State Dulles exclaimed happily when he was handed a copy of the plan...

"The American press played an important supporting role in Operation Ajax, as the Iran coup was code-named. A few newspapers and magazines published favorable articles about Mossadegh, but they were the exceptions. The New York Times regularly referred to him as a dictator. Other papers compared him to Hitler and Stalin. Newsweek reported that, with his help, Communists were 'taking over' Iran. Time called his election 'one of the worst calamities to the anti-communist world since the Red conquest of China'.

"To direct its coup against Mossadegh, the CIA had to send a senior agent on what would necessarily be a dangerous clandestine mission to Tehran. Allen Dulles had just the man in Kermit Roosevelt, the 37-year-old Harvard graduate who was the agency's top Middle East expert. By a quirk of history, he was the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who half a century earlier had helped bring the United States into the 'regime change' era.

"Roosevelt slipped into Iran at a remote border crossing on July 19, 1953, and immediately set about his subversive work. It took him just a few days to set Iran aflame. Using a network of Iranian agents and spending lavish amounts of money, he created an entirely articial wave of anti-Mossadegh protest. Members of parliament withdrew their support from Mossadegh and denounced him with wild charges. Religious leaders gave sermons calling him an atheist, a Jew, and an infidel. Newspapers were filled with articles and cartoons depicting him as everything from a homosexual to an agent of British imperialism. He realized that some unseen hand was directing this campaign, but because he had such an ingrained and perhaps exaggerated faith in democracy, he did nothing to repress it...

"At the beginning of August, though, Mossadegh did take one step to upset the CIA's plan. He learned that foreign intelligence agents were bribing members of parliament to support a no-confidence motion against him, and to thwart them, he called a national referendum on a proposition that would allow him to dissolve parliament and call new elections. On this occasion he shaded his democratic principles, using separate ballot boxes for 'yes' and 'no' voters. The result was overwhelmingly favorable. His enemies denounced him, but he had won a round. Bribed members of parliament could not carry out the CIA's plan to remove him through a 'quasi-legal' vote, since there no longer was a parliament.

"Roosevelt quickly came up with an alternative plan. He would arrange for Mohammad Reza Shah to sign royal decrees, or firmans, dismissing Mossadegh from office and appointing General Zahedi as the new prime minister. This course could also be described as 'quasi-legal', since under Iranian law, only parliament had the right to elect and dismiss prime ministers. Roosevelt realized that Mossadegh, who among other things was the country's best-educated legal scholar, would reject the firman and refuse to step down. He had a plan for that, too. A squad of royalist soldiers would deliver the firman, and when Mossadegh rejected it the soldiers would arrest him.

"The great obstacle to this plan turned out to be the shah. He hated Mossadegh, who was turning him into little more than a figurehead, but was terrified of risking his throne by joining a plot. In a series of meetings held late at night in the backseat of a car parked near the royal palace, Roosevelt tried and failed to persuade the shah to join the coup. Slowly he increased the pressure. First he arranged to fly the shah's strong-willed sister, Ashraf, home from the French Riviera to appeal to him; she agreed to do so after receiving a sum of money and, according to one account, a mink coat. When that approach failed, Roosevelt sent two of his Iranian agents to assure the shah that the plot was a good one and certain to succeed. Still the shah vacillated. Finally, Roosevelt summoned General Norman Schwarzkopf, a dashing figure who had spent years in Iran running an elite military unit - and whose son would lead the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq four decades later - to close the deal.

"The shah received Schwarzkopf in a ballroom at the palace, but at first refused to speak. Through gestures, he let his guest know that he feared that microphones were hidden in the walls or ceiling. Finally the two men pulled a table into the center of the room and climbed on top of it. In what must have been unusually forced whispers, Schwarzkopf made clear that the power of both Britain and the United States lay behind this plot, and that the shah had no choice other than to cooperate. Slowly the shah gave in. The next day he told Roosevelt he would sign the firman, but only on condition that immediately afterwards, he could fly to his retreat on the Caspian Sea...

"That was not a resounding committment to the coup, but it was good enough for Roosevelt. He secured the firmans and, on the afternoon of August 14, gave the one dismissing Mossadegh to an officer who was part of the plot, Colonel Nematollah Nassiri, commander of the Imperial Guard. Late that night, Nassiri led a squad of men to Mossadegh's house. There he told the gatekeeper that he needed to see the prime minister immediately. Then, much to Nassiri's surprise, a company of loyalist soldiers emerged from the shadows, surrounded him, and took him prisoner. Mossadegh had discovered the plot in time. The man who was supposed to arrest him was himself arrested...

"Roosevelt, however, was not... discouraged. He had built up a far reaching network of Iranian agents and had paid them a great deal of money. Many of them, especially those in the police and the army, had not yet had a chance to show what they could do. Sitting in his bunker beneath the American embassy, he considered his options... [H]e summoned two of his top Iranian operatives and told them he was determined to make another stab at Mossadegh.

"These two agents had excellent relations with Tehran's street gangs, and Roosevelt told them he now wished to use those gangs to set off riots around the city. To his dismay, they replied that they could no longer help him because the risk of arrest had become too great. This was a potentially fatal blow to Roosevelt's new plan. He responded in the best tradition of secret agents. First he offered the two agents $50,000 to continue working with him. They remained unmoved. Then he added the second part of his deal: if the men refused, he would kill them. That changed their minds. They left the embassy compound with a briefcase full of cash and a renewed willingness to help.

"That week, a plague of violence descended on Tehran. Gangs of thugs ran wildly through the streets, breaking shop windows, firing guns into mosques, beating passersby, and shouting 'Long Live Mossadegh and Communism!' Other thugs, claiming allegience to the self-exiled shah, attacked the first ones. Leaders of both factions were actually working for Roosevelt. He wanted to create the impression that the country was degenerating into chaos, and he succeeded magnificently.

"Mossadegh's supporters tried to organize demonstrations on his behalf, but once again his democratic instincts led him to react naively. He disdained the politics of the street, and ordered leaders of political parties loyal to him not to join the fighting. Then he sent police units to restore order, not realizing that many of their commanders were secretly on Roosevelt's payroll. Several joined the rioters they were supposed to suppress...

"Roosevelt chose Wednesday, August 19, as the climactic day. On that morning, thousands of demonstrators rampaged through the streets, demanding Mossadegh's resignation. They seized Radio Tehran and set fire to the offices of a progovernment newspaper. At midday, military and police units whose commanders Roosevelt had bribed joined the fray, storming the foreign ministry, the central police station, and the headquarters of the army's general staff.

"As Tehran fell into violent anarchy, Roosevelt calmly emerged from the embassy compound and drove to a safe house where he had stashed General Zahedi. It was time for the general to play his role as Iran's designated savior. He did so with gusto, riding with a group of his jubilant supporters to Radio Tehran and proclaiming to the nation that he was 'the lawful prime minister by the shah's orders'. From there he proceded to his temporary headquarters at the Officers' Club, where a throng of ecstatic admirers were waiting.

"The day's final battle was for control of Mossadegh's house. Attackers tried for two hours to storm it but were met with withering machine-gun volleys from inside. Men fell by the dozen. The tide finally turned when a column of tanks appeared, sent by a commander who was part of the plot. The tanks fired shell after shell into the house. Finally resistance from inside ceased. A platoon of soldiers gingerly moved in. Defenders had fled over a back wall, taking their deposed leader with them. The crowd outside surged into his house, looting it and then setting it afire...

"In the days that followed, the shah returned home and reclaimed the Peacock Throne he had so hastily abandoned. Mossadegh was placed under house arrest. General Zahedi became Iran's new prime minister." (pp 123-128)

Puts those "demonstrators loyal to Hosni Mubarak" in a new light, no?


brian said...

excellent account of the toppling of Mossadegh and shows the US has been an evil thru the whole of the 'american century': treacherous, conniving..people should not trust them ever again.
They preach democracy and practice its overthrow..they talk of free press, and we see then as now the NYT is a state stooge.

brian said...

excellent account of the toppling of Mossadegh by the americans, who prove then as now full of deceit and not to be trusted.
Also we can see how the 'free press' acts as an agent of govt and that the NYT has a wholly undeserved reputation.
That money may not buy love but it can buy people
How staged attacks by shady figures is usually effective when dealing with the masses.

brian said...

"As Tehran fell into violent anarchy, Roosevelt calmly emerged from the embassy compound and drove to a safe house where he had stashed General Zahedi.'

the danger of having a US embassy in your country...its too often a centre for 'regime change'

if this story was made more public the US could be asked What guarantee that we wont see a RC in our country?