Monday, June 19, 2017
New CIA/State Department Docs on the 1953 Iran Coup (Part 4)
This is part 4 of my series on the new CIA and State Department docs on the 1953 Iran Coup.
One of the most curious and difficult aspects of the Iran coup of 1953 is determining which parties were involved in the overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq, and to what extent they bear responsibility. The roles of the United States and Britain are undeniable, yet there are still inconsistencies and unknowns; primarily what happened between the first and second coup attempts, and when exactly they decided to try a coup. The following documents shed some light, but still many questions remain.
As I have previously noted (Myth 6), there were multiple contacts by IRANIANS in the months before the coup, trying to gauge the American interest in a coup. We know of at least two contacts made during March 1953, and perhaps as many as four. One referenced by Donald Wilber in his "Wilber Report" notes a General (name redacted), had contacted the "assistant military attache" and "requested Ambassador Henderson's views as to whether or nor the US government was interested in covertly supporting an Iranian military effort to oust Premier Mossadeq".
This is quite significant, as it establishes a precedent of Iranians approaching the United States to ask about a coup BEFORE the United States had decided to overthrow Mossadeq.
A previously released document (cable 3853 from Amb Henderson to Dulles dated March 31 and referring to a conversation from March 30th) has a record of former prime minister Hossein Ala' inquiring about the possibility of an American coup. Ala' was never a general so it is not possible that this request is from the same person. Henderson makes it quite clear to Ala' that the United States will not take a regime change policy, and will accept as head of the government whomever has the firman (edict) from the Shah establishing the individual as prime minister.
A new CIA document dated March 31 indicates that Majles Deputy Haerizadeh, General Batmangelitch, and retired Generals Garzan, Bahadori, and Zahedi were planning a coup to take place within a few weeks. It also says that they claim that the US embassy approves (the footnote indicates that this appears to be "wishful thinking").
There may be overlap here, but it is quite clear that there were at least 3 instances in March 1953 of Iranians contacting United States officials about a coup.
One of the next new documents is dated April 4th, and references an April 2nd conversation between Roosevelt and Dulles about initial plans to start TPAJAX (the code name of the coup attempt). It is unclear if these multiple attempts by Iranians to get the Americans on board for a coup had an effect, but given the proximity it seems as though there must be a connection of some sort. Also of note is the fact that TP AJAX was hand-written, as if it was either forgotten, or this is when they decided to name it.
These documents are significant in establishing an Iranian interest in a coup before the United States had seriously considered regime change, and perhaps helps understand how the various American figures came to decide that a coup was worth exploring. Unfortunately there is not record of the April 2nd conversation, which would be much more useful in determining what motivated the change in policy. Kermit Roosevelt's "memoir" Countercoup—which is just as helpful as it is harmful—makes no note of this conversation, yet he mentions an additional meeting with an Iranian general who also wished to collaborate with the Americans on a coup. Again, because the name is redacted and other information is missing, we cannot be sure who exactly this was and if it was another Iranian who wished to overthrow Mossadeq, or the same one asking two different Americans the same thing.