Sunday, November 29, 2015

More 1953 Coup Cables (part 2)

This is part 2 of 2 (though I expect to return to National Archives in the near future and find some more documents). Part 1

All of these documents are NOT included in the FRUS, yet are declassified. This is very interesting considering the second coup happened on the 19th and there are zero cables from this day in the collection. There may be more classified documents from this day, but the contents of the boxes at National Archives are horribly mixed up so it is very difficult to get an accurate account of what is there.

This may all change when the long-delayed revision is finally released. This was initially scheduled for Summer 2014, but was delayed due to the Iranian nuclear talks. This has been delayed once again and is now not expected until sometime in 2016.

Again format is Cable #, Month, Day, Time sent (Tehran time unless it is noted as rcvd which means DC time)

388 Aug 19 644 am
Street unrest Tehran continued through 18 August.

In morning Pan-Iranist HQ near Majlis wrecked by Tudehists. Small groups Pan-Islamists roamed city throughout day, taking revenge on all Tudehists encountered. Approximately 7:30 p.m. larger groups Pan-Iranists and Tudehists, some armed with clubs, clashed bringing total injured during day to estimated 15. Clash halted by police and army using night sticks and rifle butts. Numerous arrests made.

Pro-Shah army officers and men also active on small scale, attacking individuals who posted anti-Shah slogans.

Unrest CONTINUED as in there had been unrest on previous days. I believe the 'Pan-Islamists' is a typo of mine or possibly an autocorrect. This unrest seems to be not have been limited to one ideological conflict. Additionally the last sentence provides support to the theory that there were multiple distinct groups of coup plotters (as I have postulated in the past). After the first coup failed, scores of officers were arrested as is acknowledged by the various accounts, how could they possibly have captured so many and interrogated them yet still enough remained to conduct a second coup? This is a huge hole in the narrative from the groups who blame the US exclusively. 

390 Aug 19 609 am
Pro-Shah demonstrators in vicinity Majlis being reinforced by bazaar elements of type identified with Kashani and lesser religious leaders. Major pro-Shah crowd just reported heading toward bazaar.

More evidence of Kashani and Islamist involvement in the coup. It is unclear how 'major' the pro-Shah crowd is, and what this means exactly. Are they army officers? The 'party' type? The paid thugs?

392 Aug 19 1 pm
Embassy believes key to eventual Mosadeq control of pro-Shah elements armed only with sticks and stones at time public made restless by uncertainty situation remains in hands general staff which headed by loyal Mosadeq lieutenant.

General staff headed by a man loyal to Mossadeq. If this man is loyal, why did he not uncover the other disloyal officers? It was known that there was an attempted coup, and various press had insisted there would be a coup in the days weeks and months leading up to the events. Incompetence or what?

400 Aug 19 4 pm
PTT and press and propaganda offices occupied. Telegrams reportedly being sent provinces urging pro-Shah action similar that of Tehran.

Unclear who was sending the telegrams, and to whom. Did they mean for everyone to come to Tehran? Or to protest in the streets? And to what extent? Roosevelt had claimed to convinced a colonel in Kermanshah to come to Tehran with his troops, though given the distance (400 miles) and the relatively slow speed of transit, the logistics seem near impossible. Additionally it was claimed by Roosevelt that Hamedan was a Tudeh stronghold and was located halfway between Kermanshah and Tehran so how would the colonel and his troops traverse this?

404 Aug 19 5 pm
According various reports including Embassy and American officials, holiday atmosphere prevails in city. All vehicles have lights on as symbol Shah victory. Pedestrians applaud truckloads pro-Shah soldiers and civilians passing by.

'Holiday atmosphere' isn't exactly what one would expect for an unpopular coup. It is unclear where the 'truckloads'  of soldiers came from, were they from a local garrison or from other cities?

408 Aug 19 (rcvd 1132 am)
No attacks on foreigners any nationality reported Embassy so far, with exception burning shop identified as Russian seen by Embassy Officer. Pro-Shah demonstrators ignore or friendly toward obviously foreign passersby

One of the major complaints of Ambassador Henderson when he met with Mossadeq on the 18th, was that Americans had been attacked by Iranians. The apathy towards foreigners is interesting.

409 Aug 19 7 pm
Pro-Shah demonstrations spread throughout Tehran during day with truckloads Shah partisans touring streets to applause bystanders. Apparent overwhelming Royalist majority seems have silenced Leftists groups in evidence early in day. Non-Tudeh pro-Government papers wrecked or burned by mob. 

Attitude security forces initially ambiguous with increasing numbers individual soldiers, officers, policemen taking part pro-Shah demonstrations. Numerous truckloads soldiers at least 6 tanks touring streets sheering Shah in afternoon.

The Leftists groups were out earlier in the day but the Royalists silenced them. Earlier cables refer to Royalists without much mention of Leftists. The 'ambiguous' attitude of security forces is also of note as is the presence of tanks. Tanks move quite slowly, where did they come from? 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

More 1953 Coup Cables (part 1)

Recently I went to the National Archives to go through some of the State Department documents relating to the 1953 Iran coup. There are still quite a few classified documents (Which is illegal as they should have been declassified in 2003, but were last reviewed in the 1990s), but there were also many interesting documents not contained in the FRUS account of the coup. Additionally personal correspondences, letters, and photographs were included. I have collected some here and have annotated them (italics). This is part 1 of 2 (part 2).

With a few exceptions, format is Cable #, Month, Day, Time sent (Tehran time unless it is noted as rcvd which means DC time)

Dulles (week before July 17 1953)
“Any Iranian government, other than a Communist one, would be better for us than the present government. We have found it impossible to deal with Mossadegh” 

In the March 1953 National Security Council meeting (NSC 135) Dulles expressed a fear that removing Mossadeq would make a communist takeover probable. It is unclear what changed in these 4 months. 

109 July 16 3 pm
Newspaper editors tell Embassy that under title “State Department Preparing Coup d’etat in Iran” Soviet Embassy July 15 issued as special news release pinned to its daily bulletin a Tass Agency dispatch quoting purported NEW YORK POST story effect Mosadeq Government to fall this year in army coup and this army equipped trained by US advisers.

I have been unable to locate this article. The NY Post's online archives do not go back this far. The author of this article is a very interesting individual who spied for the Soviets in 1933, but turned very conservative and was a syndicated columnist for decades. An earlier article of his claimed that Mossadeq was controlled by Kashani and Kashani was planning to use Mossadeq to kick out the Shah.

Air Pouch Aug 15 Desp No 107
Evidence continued during the past week to pile up in support of the theory that slowly the Mosadeq Government was making headway in controlling information media. Radio is already Government-owned now newspapers are being told to get into step.

The police, acting under Article Five of the Martial Law Act— instigation of public disturbance— in a raid a week ago confiscated the equipment of ATESH, a strongly anti-Mosadeq daily. More recently agents of the Prime Minister have made threats toward unfriendly editors and given orders to the friendly.

The narrative is that Mossadeq was a liberal populist, yet he did have some autocratic tendencies, especially in times of great pressure. This shows how he was willing to act in a repressive manner when he felt threatened.

325 Aug 15 (rcvd 828 am)
With two distractions Baluchistan unreported official figures referendum vote give 2043389 for dissolution; against 1207.

Mossadeq had called an illegal referendum to dissolve the parliament just weeks before the coup. He had previously tampered with the Majles when in 1952 he stopped voting after enough MPs were selected to form a quorum. The referendum on dissolution passed in a landslide. It is unclear if there was tampering with the results as they were so one sided, but it is feasible.

339 Aug 16 (rcvd 641 am)
Radio Tehran made following announcement Noon today: “According to will of Iranian people, expressed by the referendum, dissolution of 17th Majlis declared. Elections for 18th Majlis will be announced after amendments to electoral law effected and after reallocation electoral districts. Dr. Mohammad Mosadeq” 

It is unclear what changes were to be made, or if Mossadeq was planning on tampering with the election as he had done 2 years prior.

348 Aug 16 8 pm
Flight by Shah and uncertainty Zahedi actions presumably leave Mosadeq victor in protracted and Persian-mannered campaign eliminate Shah as political force in country. Embassy considered quite possible Mosadeq may establish regency to provide needed interim before eventual proclamation Iranian republic. 

I think this is probably the most interesting short cable that is not in the FRUS collection. The regency followed by a republic sounds fantastic in hindsight, though this is probably an optimistic view. 

355 Aug 17 8 am
Government clearly in control situation this morning. Suggest you proceed immediately. Would appreciate quickest possible advice ETA as Prime Minister on several occasions has specifically requested earliest possible notification time your arrival.

Ambassador Henderson had been out of country.

367 Aug 17 (rcvd 1143 am)
14 army officers arrested in plot

One part of the narrative that has never made sense is the claim that the second coup was conducted by army officers. It is known that many officers of all different ranks from lowest lieutenant to generals were arrested. If there was only one plot, how is it that these officers did not break under interrogation and reveal the identities of the other officers? In my estimation it seems most likely that there were two (possibly completely separate from each other) factions that wished to overthrow Mossadeq and the second took advantage of the civil unrest to create a second coup. 

387 Aug 17 11 am
Reported religious societies planning petition Mosadeq for Shah’s return.

More evidence of Kashani and his followers being involved in the two coup attempts. It is important to remember that the State Department was NOT intimately involved with the coup and they would be unaware of potential collaboration between Kashani, the Shah and the CIA/MI6 etc. Also important to remember that Kashani was an inspiration if not much more than this for Khomeini and those who followed. Iranian clergy was almost exclusively quietist with Kashani as an exception. Khomeini followed in Kashani's footsteps. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

US Admiral: Iranian behavior hasn't changed in the Gulf

Yesterday the AP published an interview with Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan, the commander of the US Navy's 5th Fleet (based in Bahrain), in which the admiral stated that Iran's behavior around the Persian Gulf has remained unchanged since the nuclear deal was agreed earlier this year.

While it would seem natural to point to this as proof that Iran cannot and will not change its destructive behavior, this in fact is a limited reading of the situation, one that does not take into account the relatively short time between the deal and now, and additionally the identity of the various interests commanding the military endeavors of the Iranian Navy and IRGC-Navy.

Iran has been a rogue state for years; any change from this will undoubtedly take time and should not be expected to happen over night. For now, the conservative and reactionary institutions of the Iranian regime remain intact, and while they remain in power, they are expected to continue their disruptive practices. These parts of the Iranian ruling class are threatened by a potential opening to the West. It makes sense for them to want to strike out and try to regain the upper hand. I would not be surprised if there are more incidents (like this and this) involving the IRGCN and the maritime industry in the Persian Gulf in the coming months.

Lastly, while this seems quite obvious, it is important to remember that a state is more than its government, and the government itself may be much more diverse than ruling party or coalition. The Iranian people are not of one mind, and must not be stereotyped in this fashion. The IRGC does not speak for every Iranian, and the behavior of certain elements doesn't necessarily reflect the attitude of the people.

I expect change to happen following the next set of elections (early 2016). There is a high probability that many reformist and pragmatist candidates will be banned from running. If this happens I expect there to be a great deal of unhappiness from the Western-inclined portions of society, especially given the perceived success of the Rouhani government in opening towards the West. How this unhappiness is expressed remains to be seen.

A potential pitfall here is that this isn't an election for one position like there was in the 2009 presidential election. It could be much more difficult to organize any sort of civil disobedience without a single shared issue, and a general protest against the handling of elections may not be as appealing for the greater Iranian public. On the other hand it is much easier to fix an election for one race than to fix hundreds of races, so if enough reformist and pragmatist candidates are allowed to run, I would expect there to be a significant chance for Iran's government to change dramatically.

The Iran Deal should not be counted as a failure because of unchanged behavior by the Iranian armed forces. It must be given time, at least until the next elections. If the hardliners win these elections handily AND there is no public backlash then the argument could be made that the deal has failed to provide enough space for reformists to change Iran from within. Until then, we must wait.