Oil Nationalization and the Clergy: A Talk with Professor Abd-ul-hussein Ha’eri

Abd-ul-hussein Ha’eri

Interviewer: Morteza Rasoulipour

□50 years after 19 August 1953 Coup and the collapse of Mosaddegh's government, the movement of oil nationalization is still not fairly judged in some academic circles. Some see Dr. Mosaddegh as the axis of evil and others treat him as a saint. How would you describe Dr. Mosaddegh?
I was not into politics during the oil nationalization and the whole time when Mosaddegh was prime minister. In other words, I didn't have a diplomatic position. However, with regards to my later studies, I believe that Dr. Mosaddegh's speeches and the reports he submitted to the International Court of Justice and the Security Council, attest to the fact that he was seeking an opportunity to stop foreign interference in Iran's affairs. He was highly critical of the British influence in the Oil Company and the oppression in Iran. He very well knew that the Oil Company was responsible for the domination of British policies in Iran. The economic and financial issues of the concessions were only a small aspect of the problem. He would have never been satisfied with reconciliations over the oil. His enmity towards Britain was deep rooted. Since, he was radically against any foreign influence in Iran he did not trust them at all. From his statements, it seems that he was extremely angry with the British and thought of the situation then as an opportunity to eradicate the British presence in Iran. There is still uncertainty whether or not reconciliation with the British would have been to Iran's interest. However, I personally favor Mosaddegh's approach for its nationalistic value. Perhaps, Mosaddegh believed that the proposals made by the British ultimately would lead to the same thing which happened in the consortium deal. The only difference would have been in its positive image.

□Some believe that because of Dr. Mosaddegh’s inclination towards American democracy, he was too optimistic about the role of America, as a neutral country, as Iran’s savior. What is your take on this statement?
I don’t agree. The Americans somehow supported Mosaddegh in early days of the movement. Mosaddegh acted as if he had hope in them. However, when they visited Iran and made their position clear, Mosaddegh did not accept them. The representative of America who has met with Mosaddegh was angry with Mosaddegh because he would not listen to them. Although Mosaddegh might have had hope in the role of the Americans in the beginning, he openly stated afterwards: “the Americans did not help us much. They just sent two helicopters to Iran for DDT dissemination. This was all they did for Iran.” Mosaddegh never really trusted the Americans. I believe that the Shah did the worst by setting an unfair war against Mosaddegh’s government. It was him who united with the enemy to defeat Mosaddegh.
□The most prevalent objections made to Mosaddegh’s policies evolve around his call for the national referendum, calling off the 7th Majlis, and the bill for expanding the constitutional prerogative of the prime minister. Even figures such as Dr. Sedighi, Abdullah Mo’azami and Khalil Maleki who were among Mosaddegh’s alibis did not agree with Mosaddegh’s decision to call of the parliament. How do you see this?
The truth is that there were disagreements on how to run the country. The bill which Mosaddegh proposed to be granted more authority was passed by the parliament on both rounds. The parliament members themselves, entrusted more authority to Mosaddegh. The situation was the same in the second time: the majority of the parliament members agreed to extend authorities granted to Mosaddegh’s for a longer period. Although, Ayatollah Kashani was against this bill in the beginning, after negotiating with Mosaddegh they came to an agreement. I am not trying to deny the fact that Mosaddegh was sometimes stubborn. However, I believe that Ayatollah Kashani was somehow deceived by Major General Zahedi. The day after the overthrown of Mosaddegh, Kashani said in an interview: “We won, we won.” I would never forget this statement.   
 You probably remember the situation then. It is impossible for me to describe how they pressured Mosaddegh’s government. What can I say? In the incident of 28th February 1953, Hadj Baha-al-din Nouri, Ayatollah Hadj Mirza Abdullah Chehelsotouni and Ayatollah Seyed Mohammad Behbahani shouted in front of Shah’s house and begged him not to leave the country. The press published the news and photos due to the incidents afterwards.

□How do you see the position of Grand Ayatollah Boroujerdi and other clergies towards Dr. Mosaddegh, the period he was the prime minister and the incident of 19th August 1953?
Ayatollah Boroujerdi and Mosaddegh were on the same page. He once stated that the prime minister had contacted him when a guardian was for Fātimah al-Ma‘sūmah Mosque. This shows that they on the same side. However, people such as Mr. Behbahani were pretty much against Mosaddegh from the very beginning. Around the end of 1952 I had to go to Qum. It was there that I realized at nights, a group whom people thought to be from Tudeh party, used to hand out threatening notes to clergy men stating that they will be hanged the day after and such and such things. They distributed these notes in all clergy men houses, from Ayatollah Boroujerdi to others. I don’t know whose game it was. But, it evoked the clergy men against Mosaddegh. They were all happy when Mosaddegh’s government was overthrown. 
I lived in Qum in those days. I remember I went to visit a clergy man who was extremely sick. In his bed, he was so happy because of Fatemi’s arrest and things done to him. During Mosaddegh’s government, a sick and twisted attitude was created against Mosaddegh in Qum.   Once when I went to a public bath in Qum I heard a tensor saying: “Pea was 17 Rls per Kilo and now it is 18 Rls.” He was complaining about the inflation. I then realized that some unknown force is advertising against Mosaddegh. On the other hands, Mosaddegh’s companions were not supportive enough either. In one of his trials, these problems are reflected clearly. In one of the days during which the coup was formed, Dr. Mosaddegh tried to get in touch with general Riahi from noon to night but, did not find him. At 9 PM, Riahi finally called Mosaddegh and asked him if anything was wrong. Mosaddegh asked him why he had disobeyed him and removed the tank from the street. The prime minister has ordered a tank at the street leading to his house from 16th August so that it can prevent possible attacks. Riahi told him in response: “We do not think it was of any use. So, we removed it.” These are my observations. I was deeply sorry when the coup happened. Especially when I saw that the clergymen in Qum were deceived and had become Mosaddegh’s enemies mistakenly. He was a good Muslim, a freedom seeker, and wanted nothing but for Iran to be independent and free from foreign dominance.

 Translated by: Jairan Gahan

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