August 15, 1953, 60 years ago today, Operation Ajax began. Orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6, the Shah issued a royal decree dismissing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, the elected leader of Iran, despite the Shah having no authority under the constitution to actually do so.
CIA operatives, backed by fascist guerrillas and pro-royalist factions in the Iranian military, fought a multi-day battle against the supporters of the secular government, ending with the capture of Mosaddegh on a charge of “treason” for resisting the coup, and the installation of the Shah as an absolute monarch.
The “why” behind all of this remains a matter of some debate, with many of the official documents still classified or released heavily redacted, but after Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran during WW2, for no real reason other than because they could, post-war Iran emerged pretty resentful and supportive of nationalist factions that wanted to reduce foreign interference in the nation.
This led to Mosaddegh’s election and the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a monopoly which had been granted extremely favorable terms during the WW2 occupation, after they refused to renegotiate.
After the coup, AIOC was restored to British control, and promptly renamed British Petroleum. Their monopoly was cancelled, however, so US oil companies could also get involved in Iranian oil.
The plan seemed more or less successful at the time, but the Shah’s increasingly dictatorial rule over the next 20+ years reshaped Iran dramatically, fueling resentment at the US and Britain for installing him in the first place.
This came to a head in 1978, as growing demonstrations against the Shah’s rule took the streets, eventually becoming the Iranian Revolution and forcing the Shah into exile. His office was abolished and Iran’s new government centered around Shi’ite religious leaders.
25 years or so from coup to ouster, the Shah’s reign still colors a lot of resentment toward the US in the nation, and the US government didn’t get around to apologizing for the coup until 2009. Despite the apology, the US has remained hostile to post-Shah Iran for the entire 34+ years of its existence, and continues to threaten to attack the nation several times a month.
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