Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mohammad Mosaddegh


Mohammad Mosaddegh (May 19, 1882 – March 5, 1967) was a major figure in modern Iranian history who served as the Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953 when he was removed from power by a coup d'état. From an aristocratic background, Mosaddegh was an author, administrator, lawyer, prominent parliamentarian, and statesman, famous for his passionate opposition to foreign intervention in Iran. He is most famous as the architect of the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), (later British Petroleum or BP), and which is thought by many to be the reason for his deposition.

Mossadeq started his career in Iranian politics with the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, when at the age of 24, he was elected from Isfahan to the newly inaugurated Persian Parliament, the Majles of Iran. In 1920, after being self-exiled to Switzerland in protest at the Anglo-Persian Treaty of 1919, he was invited by the new Persian Prime Minister, Hassan Pirnia (Moshir-ed-Dowleh), to become his Minister of Justice; but while en route to Tehran, he was asked by the people of Shiraz to become Governor of the Fars Province. He was later appointed Finance Minister, in the government of Ahmad Ghavam (Ghavam os-Saltaneh) in 1921, and then Foreign Minister in the government of Moshir-ed-Dowleh in June 1923. He then became Governor of the Azerbaijan Province. In 1923, he was re-elected to the Majles and voted against the selection of the Prime Minister Reza Khan as the new Shah of Persia.


By 1944, Reza Shah Pahlavi had abdicated, and Mosaddegh was once again elected to parliament. This time he took the lead of Jebhe Melli, an organization he had founded with nineteen others like Dr.Hossein Fatemi, Ahmad Zirakzadeh, Ali Shayegan and Karim Sanjabi, aiming to establish democracy and end the foreign presence in Iranian politics, especially by nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s (AIOC) operations in Iran.

Most of Iran’s oil reserves were in the Persian Gulf area and had been developed by the British Anglo-Iranian Oil company and exported to Britain. For a number of reasons — a growing consciousness of how little Iran was getting from the Anglo-Iranian Oil company for its oil; refusal of AIOC to offer of a ‘50–50% profit sharing deal’ to Iran as Aramco had to Saudi Arabia; anger over Iran’s defeat and occupation by the Allied powers — nationalization of oil was an important and popular issue with a broad cross-section of the Iranian people. After negotiations for higher oil royalties failed, on 15 March and 20 March 1951, the Iranian Majles and Senate voted to nationalize the British-owned and operated AIOC, taking control of Iran’s oil industry.


Another force for nationalization was the Tudeh or Communist party. In early April 1951 the party unleashed nationwide strikes and riots in protest against delays in nationalization of the oil industry along with low wages and bad housing in oil industry. This display of strength made an impact on the deputies of the Majles.
On April 28, 1951, the Majles named Mosaddegh as new prime minister by a vote of 79–12. Aware of Mosaddegh’s rising popularity and political power, the young Shah appointed Mosaddegh to the Premiership. On May 1st, Mosaddegh nationalized the AIOC, canceling its oil concession due to expire in 1993 and expropriating its assets. The next month a committee of five majles deputies was sent to Khuzestan to enforce the nationalization. Mosaddegh explained his nationalization policy in a June, 21 1951 speech:

"Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries… have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself. The company should do nothing else but return its property to the rightful owners. The nationalization law provide that 25% of the net profits on oil be set aside to meet all the legitimate claims of the company for compensation… It has been asserted abroad that Iran intends to expel the foreign oil experts from the country and then shut down oil installations. Not only is this allegation absurd; it is utter invention…"

The confrontation between Iran and Britain escalated from there with Mosaddegh’s government refusing to allow the British any involvement in Iran’s oil industry, and Britain making sure Iran could sell no oil. The AIOC evacuated its technicians and closed down the oil installations. Under nationalized management many refineries lacked the trained technicians that were needed to continue production. The British government announced a de facto blockade and reinforced its naval force in the Persian Gulf and lodged complaints against Iran before the United Nations Security Council. The entire Iranian oil industry came to a virtual standstill, oil production dropping from 241.4 million barrels in 1950 to 10.6 million in 1952. This Abadan Crisis reduced Iran’s oil income to almost nil, putting a severe strain on the implementation of Mosaddegh’s promised domestic reforms.

Still enormously popular in late 1951, Mosaddegh called elections. His base of support was in urban areas and not in the provinces. This fact was reflected in the rejection of Mosaddegh's bill for electoral reform (which no longer disqualified illiterates from electoral participation) by the conservative bloc, on the grounds that it would “unjustly discriminate patriots who had been voting for the last forty years.”

The 17th Majles convened on February 1952. Tension soon began to escalate in Majles. Conservative opponents refused to grant Mosaddegh special powers to deal with the economic crisis caused by the sharp drop in revenue and voiced regional grievances against the capital Tehran, while the National Front waged a propaganda war against the landed upper class. On July 16, 1952, during the royal approval of his new cabinet, Mosaddegh insisted on the constitutional prerogative of the prime minister to name a Minister of War and the Chief of Staff, something the Shah had done hitherto. The Shah refused, and Mosaddegh announced his resignation appealing directly to the public for support, pronouncing that ‘in the present situation, the struggle started by the Iranian people cannot be brought to a victorious conclusion’.

Veteran politician Ahmad Ghavam, also known as Ghavam os-Saltaneh, was appointed as Iran’s new prime minister. On the day of his appointment, he announced his intention to resume negotiations with the British to end the oil dispute, a reversal of Mosaddegh’s policy. The National Front, along with various Nationalist, Islamist, and socialist parties and groups including Tudeh, responded by calling for protests, strikes and mass demonstrations in favor of Mosaddegh. Major strikes broke out in all of Iran’s major towns, with the Bazaar closing down in Tehran. After five days of mass demonstrations on the 30th of Tir on the Iranian calendar, military commanders, ordered their troops back to barracks, fearful of overstraining the enlisted men’s loyalty and left Tehran in the hands of the protesters. Frightened by the unrest, Shah dismissed Ghavam and re-appointed Mosaddegh, granting him the full control of the military he had previously demanded.

With further rise of his popularity, a greatly strengthened Mosaddegh convinced the parliament to grant him emergency powers for six months to decree any law he felt necessary for obtaining not only financial solvency, but also electoral, judicial, and educational reforms. Mosaddegh appointed Ayatollah Kashani as house speaker. Kashani’s Islamic scholars, as well as the Tudeh Party, proved to be two of Mosaddegh’s key political allies, although both relationships were often strained.
With his emergency powers, Mosaddegh tried to strengthen the democratically-elected political institutions by limiting the monarchy’s unconstitutional powers, cutting Shah’s personal budget, forbidding him to communicate directly with foreign diplomats, transferring royal lands back to the state, expelling his politically active sister Ashraf Pahlavi. In January 1953 Mosaddegh successfully pressed Parliament to extend emergency powers for another 12 months. With these powers, he decreed a land reform law that establishes village councils and increases in peasants shares of production. This weakened the landed aristocracy, abolishing Iran’s centuries-old feudal agriculture sector. However during this time Iranians were becoming poorer and unhappier by the day thanks to the British boycott.


Mosaddegh's political coalition began to fray, his enemies increasing in number.
Partly through the efforts of Iranians working as British agents, several former members of Mosaddegh's coalition turned against him. They included Muzzaffar Bazaui, head of the worker-based Toilers party; Hussein Makki, who had helped lead the takeover of the Abadan refinery and was at one point considered Mosaddegh's heir apparent; and most outspokenly Ayatollah Kashani, who damned Mosaddegh with the vitriol he had once reserved for the British.

The government of the United Kingdom had grown increasingly distressed over Mosaddegh’s policies and was especially bitter over the loss of their control of the Iranian oil industry. Repeated attempts to reach a settlement had failed. Unable to resolve the issue single handedly due to its post-World War II problems, Britain looked towards the United States to settle the issue. Despite Mosaddegh's open disgust with socialism, Winston Churchill told the United States that Mosaddegh was increasingly turning towards communism and was moving Iran towards the Soviet sphere at a time of high Cold War fears. As a result the United States and Britain began to publicly denounce Mosaddegh’s policies for Iran as harmful to the country. In the mean time the already precarious alliance between Mosaddegh and Kashani was severed in January 1953, when Kashani opposed Mosaddegh’s demand that his increased powers be extended for a period of one year.

In November and December 1952, British intelligence officials suggested to American intelligence that the prime minister should be ousted. The new US administration under Dwight D. Eisenhower and the British government under Winston Churchill agreed to work together toward Mosaddegh’s removal. On April 4, 1953, CIA director Dulles approved $1 million to be used in any way that would bring about the fall of Mosaddegh. Soon the CIA’s Tehran station started to launch a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh. In early June, American and British intelligence officials met again and put the finishing touches on the strategy. Soon afterward the chief of the CIA’s Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. the grandson of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in Tehran to direct it. The plot, known as Operation Ajax, centered on convincing Iran’s monarch to issue a decree to dismiss Mosaddegh from office, as he had attempted some months earlier.

Mosaddegh became aware of the plots against him and grew increasingly wary of conspirators acting within his government. Soon pro-Mosaddegh supporters, actually paid plants of the U.S. operation, threatened Muslim leaders with savage punishment if they opposed Mosaddegh, giving the carefully engineered impression that Mosaddegh was cracking down on dissent, and stirring anti-Mosaddegh sentiments within the religious community through paid violence and smears. Mosaddegh then moved to dissolve the heavily-bribed parliament, under his emergency powers. After taking the additional step of abolishing the Constitutional guarantee of a secret ballot, Mosaddegh’s victory in the national plebiscite was assured. The electorate was forced into a non-secret ballot and Mosaddegh won 99.93% of the vote. The tactics employed by Mosaddegh to remain in power were dictatorial in their result, playing into the propaganda efforts of those who plotted to have him removed. Parliament was suspended indefinitely, and Mosaddegh’s emergency powers were extended.

In August 1953, Mosaddegh attempted to convince the Shah to leave the country and allow him control over the government. The Shah flew to Baghdad and from there hid safely in Rome, Italy. He actually signed two decrees, one dismissing Mosaddegh and the other nominating the CIA's choice, General Fazlollah Zahedi, as Prime Minister. These decrees, were specifically written as dictated by Donald Wilbur the CIA architect of the plan, which were designed as a major part of Wilbur's strategy to give the impression of legitimacy to the secret coup.


Soon, massive protests were engineered by Roosevelt's team across the city, and in far-reaching areas, tribesmen were paid to be at the ready to assist the coup. Fake anti- and pro-monarchy protesters, both paid by Roosevelt, violently clashed in the streets, looting and burning mosques and newspapers, leaving almost 300 dead. The pro-monarchy leadership, chosen, hidden and finally unleashed at the right moment by the CIA team, led by retired army General and former Minister of Interior in Mosaddegh’s cabinet, Fazlollah Zahedi joined with underworld figures such as the Rashidian brothers and local strongman Shaban Jafari, to gain the upper hand on August 19, 1953. The military joined on cue: pro-Shah tank regiments stormed the capital and bombarded the prime minister’s official residence. Mosaddegh managed to flee from the mob that set in to ransack his house, and, the following day, surrendered to General Zahedi, who was meanwhile set up by the CIA with makeshift headquarters at the Officers' Club. Mosaddegh was arrested at the Officers' Club and transferred to a military jail shortly after.

Shortly after the return of the Shah, on August 22, 1953, from his flight to Rome, Mosaddegh was tried by a military tribunal for high treason. Zahedi and the Shah were inclined, however, to spare the man’s life. Mosaddegh received a sentence of 3 years in solitary confinement at a military jail and was exiled to his village not far from Tehran, where he remained under house arrest on his estate until his death, on 5 March 1967.

Zahedi’s new government soon reached an agreement with foreign oil companies to form a consortium and restore the flow of Iranian oil to world markets in substantial quantities, giving the U.S. and Great Britain the lion's share of Iran's oil. The consortium agreed to share profits on a 50-50 basis with Iran, but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors. In return, the U.S. massively funded the Shah's resulting dictatorship, including his army and brutal secret police force, SAVAK.

For his sudden rise in popularity inside and outside of Iran, his defiance of the British, and his fight for democracy, Mosaddegh was named as Time Magazine’s 1951 Man of the Year.

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