CIA Narrates the Coup

A Book Review of:
Regime change in Iran: overthrow of Premier Mossadeq of Iran, November 1952-August 1953
By: Donald Wilber
Persian translation by: Bahman Serajian, Salman Qassemian
Tehran: Daneshnegar Publishing Co., 1st edition, 2011, 168 pages

As one of most important and crucial political events of Iranian contemporary history, the coup of August 19, 1953 is considered the origin of many bitter historic incidents of this country. The coup was the first one carried out by the most brutal Iranians who were foreign mercenaries with the direct and public intervention of two foreign governments (Britain and the United States) for toppling a national government (Dr. Mossadeq government) and with the cooperation of Mohammad Reza Shah.
Dr. Mossadeq is neither an idol nor a politician whose services can be summarized in a few economic and social measures.  He is the fierce voice of the people whose rightful demand has still and even forever resonated in the most distant places of the world.
The National Front was established in 1949 with the agreement of Dr. Mossadeq. But the front as it is obvious from its name was a heterogeneous collection of political groups with different policies. The members of the National Front apparently had a consensus on one thing and that was the nationalization of oil industry. But in the next stages, many members from other parties like the Toilers Party or Pan Iranism Separated from it. (Bigdeli, p.38)
Anyway, as the bill of oil industry nationalization was approved in March 1951, the British government tried to regain its lost interests. Thus, it started to actively contain the national oil movement inside and outside Iran and to prevent it from being carried out correctly. In such a situation, the Iranian government decided to sever its political relations with the British government in order to avoid the plot of British elements inside the country and in October 22, 1952 in a letter to British embassy to Tehran, announced that it had severed political relations with the British government.

The British government in order to restore the former situation and to dominate its monopolization on oil started to carry out measures like boycotting the purchase of oil from Iran, prosecuting the country, providing the grounds for coup and more important than everything, diminishing the democratic base of Mossadeq government.
After the endorsement of the US-British joint plan for overthrowing Dr. Mossadeq, the US embassy along with British elements were assigned to carry out the plan.
Kermit-Roosevelt – the CIA commander in Middle East – arrived in Tehran on July 19, 1953 and after meeting with the Shah and getting his agreement started his activities for overthrowing Mossadeq government. Shah announced his agreement only when he had no worries about Britain and the US. But, despite such activities, the Coup failed in August 16, 1953. Roosevelt immediately began another operation for conducting another coup. And finally in the evening of August 19, 1953, the US-British made coup took place and the Britain once again imposed its domination over the Iranian nation.

Book's introduction

The book, "The Overthrow of Dr. Mossadeq as Admitted by CIA" has been collected in eleven sections and five appendixes. It contains documents concerning the coup of August 19, 1953 which has been collected by Donald Wilber and translated by Bahman Serajian and Salman Qassemian.
Donald Wilber was born in the US state of Madison in 1907 and after studying elementary courses, continued his education in the Arts and Architecture fields in the same state. He was graduated in the Arts field in 1929 and continued his higher education in the field of Architecture and one year later was employed as the expert of the Egyptian archeology by the Oriental Institute of Chicago University.
Wilber returned to Princeton University in 1939 and continued his education in the field of architecture. One year later, he went to Iran and Syria, and started his cooperation with Arthur Pham Pope. During his stay in Iran, Wilber collected a large amount of information about Iran's architectural constructions. He included the information in the book of the architectural constructions of Timurid and Ilkhanid eras.  He worked for CIA during the Second World War. At this time, he continued his education in the field of architecture and got his degree of doctorate in 1949. He emerged as a leading political strategist about Iran's issue during the post-war era and the appearance of different issues in the Middle East like the issue of Iran-Soviet oil, and the nationalization of oil industry until the return of Shah to power in 1953. Donald Wilber played a major role in the Operation Ajax, and in different stages of the operation was one of the main elements of the coup including making decision for drafting the plan of Zahedi's premiership. Wilber cooperated with CIA as an analyst in political issues until his retirement in 1969. He has written several books and article about the issues of Iran and the Middle East from the ancient period until now. Ha also has prominent works in various issues of Iranian culture and civilization, Iran during Pahlavi era and some other historical periods.  Finally, Wilber died in 2000.  The sections of "The Overthrow of Dr. Mossadeq as Admitted by CIA" are: Preface, The Translator's Introduction, The notes of the Writer's Report, Summary, Preliminary Steps, Drafting the Plan, Consolidating the Operational Plan, The Decisions are Made: Activity Begins, Mounting Pressure against the Shah, The First Try, Apparent Failure (August 16), The Shah is Victorious, Report to London, What Was Learned from the Operation.
The translators of the book in the preface referred to the grounds of the US involvement in the Middle East and studied the country's need to the regional oil and considered their goal of translating the book as "an effort for registering the oil history of the country and identifying the history of independence of the people of this land for determining their own destiny and national interests".  Wilber page 7). In the preface, the translators referred to a general explanation about the documents of Donald Wilber and its translation, saying "the names of the persons have been deleted in most pages of the report… the translators have re-identified the subjects and the deleted names by referring to reliable decoding centers… the existing images in the book is not among the main text and has been annexed for making the main text technical." (Wilber page 8)
Dean L. Lodge, the writer of the above report says the study was written because it seemed desirable to have a record of a major operation prepared while documents were readily at hand and while the memories of the personnel involved in the activity were still fresh… to stress certain conclusions reached after these in the form of recommendations applicable to future, parallel operations. (Ibid, page 14).

The summary of the report justifies the coup against Mossadeq that "the legitimacy of Iran had become invalid due to the continuation of Mossadeq's premiership… his government had cooperated with Tudeh Party… it was estimated that Iran was in real danger of falling behind the Iron Curtain… No remedial action other than the covert action plan set forth below could be found to improve the existing state of affairs." (Ibid page 15).
Elsewhere in the report says the aim of the TPAJAX project was "to cause the fall of the Mossadeq government to reestablish the prestige and power of the Shah; and to replace the Mossadeq government with one which would govern Iran according to constructive policies. Specifically, the aim was to bring to power a government which would reach an equitable oil settlement…" (Ibid, page 14).

In the section of "Preliminary Steps", the factors involved in the overthrow of the government of Dr. Mossadeq have been referred to. "The Study indicated that a Shah-General Zahedi combination, supported by CIA local assets and financial backing, would have a good chance of overthrowing Mossadeq." (Ibid, page 25). The reason behind the election of Zahedi as one of the main elements was that he was once a member of the cabinet of Mossadeq and had gone out of the cabinet and was the only person among the opponents who had voiced his opposition publically. Thus, he attracted the support of many people.
In "Drafting the Plan", the details of the plan was as follows:
1- that Zahedi alone of potential candidates had the vigor and courage to make him worthy of support;
2- that the Shah must be brought into the operation;
3- that the Shah would act only with great reluctance but that he could be forced to do so;
4- that if the issue was clear-cut the armed forces would follow the Shah rather than Mossadeq; that the operation must, if possible, be made to appear legal or quasi-legal instead of an outright coup;
5- that public opinion must be fanned to fever pitch against Mossadeq in the period just preceding the execution of the overthrow operation;
6- that the military aspect would be successful only if the station were able to review the plan with the Iranians chosen by Zahedi to execute it;
7- that immediate precautions must be taken by the new government to meet a strong reaction by the Tudeh Party. (Ibid, pages 30-31)
Kermit-Roosevelt and his colleagues had concentrated on two factors when they were looking for "consolidating their operational plan". One was that definite counteraction would have to be taken against some of the strongest elements supporting Mossadeq, such as the Qashqai tribal leaders (Khosro Khan and Nasser Khan) and the other was that every effort should be devoted to increasing the size and effectiveness of the anti-Mossadeq forces.
In the section of "The Decisions are Made: Activity Begins", those who were assigned to start the pans were introduced: Roosevelt was to be field commander in Tehran. John H. Leavitt was sent to Nicosia to be in contact and liaison with the SIS station and to maintain the three-way wireless contact established earlier. Colonel Stephen Johnson Meads drew the job of representing the Agency in meetings in Paris with Princess Ashraf, energetic twin sister of the Shah. Joseph C. Goodwin, Chief of Station in Tehran, was to act for purposes of TPAJAX as chief of staff to the field commander, Mr. Roosevelt. George Carroll, Chief FI Tehran, was given the military planning responsibility first in Washington, then in Tehran. Dr. Donald Wilber was charged throughout the operation with the propaganda aspects of the plan and worked closely with the CIA Art Group in the preparation of propaganda material. John Waller, just having returned from service as Chief FI, Tehran, was charged with the Headquarters support responsibilities during TPAJAX and maintained the required liaison with the Departments of State and Defense. Roger Goiran, previous Chief of Station in Tehran, directed the early stages and preliminaries of the operation in Tehran. For implementing the coup, Mohammad Reza Shah was needed to cooperate with it and to sign royal decrees of assigning Zahedi as prime minister and dismissing Mossadeq. The Shah who had never been identified as a brave man was first uncertain but finally the elements of the coup could get his agreement by putting pressure on him.
What forced the Shah to be uncertain was not merely Mossadeq's personal characteristics. Mossadeq was considered the most popular figure in Iran's contemporary history, and although the Britain's sabotage operations and economic pressures had weakened him, the Iranian people still liked and admired him. Even it was not clear whether the Shah could dismiss him legally. The consequences of the plan might target its designers and not only threatened the personal life of the Shah but the monarchial system. (Kinzer, page 11) But based on CIA documents, according to Nasiri, (which has never been confirmed), it was Soraya who finally convinced the Shah that he must sign. If this is true, here was an ally form a totally unexpected quarter. (Wilber, page 54) "The first operation" of the coup started on August 16, 1953 but "Colonel Nasiri was arrested in the house of Mossadeq at 23:30"(Ibid, page 60), and "by about 0230 hours those Persians who were still willing to carry out the operation were convinced that the cause was lost, as they saw strengthened detachments, more troops moving into the city, and vehicles being stopped for questioning". (Ibid. page 61)

The section "Apparent Failure" says that the "Tudeh appeared to be at least as well posted on the coup plans as the government-how is not known…" (Ibid. page 64). After the failure of the coup in August 16, and Shah's escape to Baghdad, his speech was broadcast form the radio. He said, "What has taken place in Iran cannot be considered a coup d'etat in the real sense." The Shah said he had issued his orders for the dismissal of Dr. Mossadeq, and had appointed General Zahedi in his place. (Ibid. page 69)

The story of August 16 coup had surprised the people of Iran. The coup had angered the people since it had been implemented with the public intervention of the Shah and by the commander and elements of the Imperial Guard. From the morning of August 16, Tehran was almost closed and the people were talking about the coup everywhere. (Nejati, page 406)
When Kermit-Roosevelt heard from the radio that the military coup had failed and colonel Nasiri had been arrested, he immediately started to study and implement the second coup. The Shah, who had failed in the first coup, signed the decree of Zahedi's premiership. The decree was published in the papers Setareh Islam, Asia Javanan, Aram, Mard-i-Asia, Mellat-i-Ma, and the Journal de Tehran. The news showed that the overthrow was happening. Tehran's main streets were full of dynamism and the move continued until the house of Dr. Mossadeq. "In Tehran, the last resistance was broken and the headquarters of the army was seized and at the end of 19 hours, the house of Mossadeq was seized and destroyed and whatever was in the house was thrown out to the street and passageways." (Wilber, page 94) Thus, the government of Dr. Mossadeq was collapsed and "The Shah is Victorious". 

The section of "Report to London" has referred to the trip of Roosevelt to London and his meeting with Maj. General J. Alexander Sinclair and other officials of the intelligent service. Roosevelt in the meeting presented a report about Iran's domestic developments and the psychological atmosphere in Iran.

The final section "What was Learned from the Operation" says two elements lending support to the operation seemed unable to meet the sudden demand for utmost speed and accomplishment. These were Communications and the Psychological Warfare (PW) Senior Staff." (Ibid. page 103) Also, ” Other lessons learned from the operation relate to Headquarters and station capacities for planning, and to the capabilities of the local agents to execute general and specific directives." (Ibid. page 106). At the end, it said that" as in the larger world picture, US-UK interests and activities must be coordinated. A great deal is to be gained by direct coordination in special fields of activity once both parties have recognized that their aims are really identical". (Ibid. Page 110)

At the end of the book, there are five appendixes:

The first appendix is "Initial Operational Plan for TPAJAX as Cabled from Nicosia to Headquarters on 1 June 1953".
The second one is entitled "London' Draft of the TPAJAX Operational Plan."
The third appendix is about "Foreign Office Memorandum" on July 23, 1953.
The fourth one is "Report on Military Planning Aspect of TPAJAX"
And finally the fifth appendix is about "Military Critique: The Lessons we learned from the operation relate to Headquarters and station capacities for planning."

Points about the book:
Strong Points:
- Although the current book has a special backing, it has been able to clarify many historical issues since the documents have been provided at the time of the event.
- The footnote of the book is one of its positive points which has been carried out by the translators and makes the reader to fully understand the subjects.
-  The images printed in the book are not genuine and have been added by the translators.
Weak Points:
- One of the shortcomings of the book is that no original document has been printed in it.
- The current documents have a special backing because they have been provided by the coup elements and we should not believe in some of the issues without any dispute and investigating in other books.
Another point is that Donald Wilber was not in Iran when the coup was implemented and his report of the coup is based on what Kermit-Roosevelt and other elements had said and in this process, some facts had been ignored or misunderstood inevitably.

- Bigdeli, Ali, (Lack of Strategy and Failure of Dr. Mossadeq) Foreign Relations Quarterly, Year 4, no. 15, (Summer 2003)
- Kinzer, Steven, All Men of Shah, Trans. By Lotfollah Meyssami, Tehran, Samadieh, 2003
- Nejati, Gholamreza, The Movement of Oil Industry Nationalization and the Coup of 19 August, 1953, 8th edition, Bija, Enteshar co., 1999
- Wilber, Donald, Overthrow of Mossadeq Government as Admitted by CIA Document, Trans. by Bahman Serajian, and Salman Qassemian, Tehran Daneshnegar Press, 2010

Fountainhead: ketab-e mah-e tarikh va joghrafia (History & Geography Monthly), No. 147, Aug. 2010

By: Mehdi Akhavan,
MA Student of Central Asian and Caucasian Studies
Translated by: Mohammad Baqer Khoshnevisan

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