The 1953 Iranian coup d’état, known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup (Persian: کودتای ۲۸ مرداد‎‎), was the overthrow of the Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favour of strengthening the monarchical rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the United Kingdom (under the name “Operation Boot”) and the United States (under the name TPAJAX Project).[3][4][5][6]
Mossadegh had sought to audit the books of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), a British corporation (now BP) and to change the terms of the company’s access to Iranian petroleum reserves. Upon the refusal of the AIOC to co-operate with the Iranian government, the parliament (Majlis) voted to nationalize the assets of the company and expel their representatives from the country.[7][8][9] Following the coup in 1953, a government under General Fazlollah Zahedi was formed which allowed Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran,[9][page needed] to rule the country more firmly as monarch. He relied heavily on US and UK support to hold on to power until his own overthrow in February 1979.[7][8][9][10] In August 2013, 60 years after the coup, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) admitted that it was involved in both its planning and its execution, including the bribing of Iranian politicians, security and army high-ranking officials, as well as pro-coup propaganda.[11][12] The CIA is quoted acknowledging the coup was carried out “under CIA direction” and “as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.”[13]
Iran’s oil had been discovered and later controlled by the British-owned AIOC.[14] Popular discontent with the AIOC began in the late 1940s: a large segment of Iran’s public and a number of politicians saw the company as exploitative and a central tool of continued British imperialism in Iran.[7][15] Despite Mosaddeq’s popular support, the AIOC was unwilling to allow Iranian authorities to audit the company accounts or to renegotiate the terms of its access to Iranian petroleum. In 1951, Iran’s petroleum industry was nationalized with near-unanimous support of the Majlis in a bill introduced by Mossadeq who led the Iranian nationalist party, the National Front. In response, Britain instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil to pressure Iran economically.[16] Initially, Britain mobilized its military to seize control of the British-built Abadan oil refinery, then the world’s largest, but Prime Minister Clement Attlee opted instead to tighten the economic boycott[17] while using Iranian agents to undermine Mosaddeq’s government.[18] With a change to more conservative governments in both Britain and the United States, Winston Churchill and the Eisenhower administration decided to overthrow Iran’s government, though the predecessor Truman administration had opposed a coup.[19] Classified documents show that British intelligence officials played a pivotal role in initiating and planning the coup, and that the AIOC contributed $25,000 towards the expense of bribing officials.[20]
Britain and the US selected General Zahedi to be the prime minister of a government that was to replace Mosaddegh’s. Subsequently, a royal decree dismissing Mosaddegh and appointing Zahedi was drawn up by the coup plotters and signed by the Shah. The CIA had successfully pressured the weak monarch to participate in the coup, while bribing street thugs, clergy, politicians and Iranian army officers to take part in a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh and his government.[21] At first the coup appeared to be a failure when, on the night of 15–16 August, Imperial Guard Colonel Nematollah Nassiri was arrested while attempting to arrest Mosaddegh. The Shah fled the country the next day. On 19 August, a pro-Shah mob paid by the CIA marched on Mosaddegh’s residence.[22] According to the CIA’s declassified documents and records, some of the most feared mobsters in Tehran were hired by the CIA to stage pro-Shah riots on 19 August. Other CIA-paid men were brought into Tehran in buses and trucks, and took over the streets of the city.[23] Between 300[1] and 800 people were killed because of the conflict.[2] Mosaddegh was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the Shah’s military court. On 21 December 1953, he was sentenced to three years in jail, then placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.[24][25][26] Other Mosaddegh supporters were imprisoned, and several received the death penalty.[9]
After the coup, the Shah ruled as a monarch for the next 26 years[8][9] while modernizing the country using oil revenues, until he was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution in 1979.[8][9][27] The tangible benefits the United States reaped from overthrowing Iran’s elected government included a share of Iran’s oil wealth[28][clarification needed] and ensuring the Iranian nation remained under the control of an ally. Washington continually supplied arms to the Shah and the CIA-trained SAVAK, his secret police force.[9] In 1976, Amnesty International reported that Iran had the “highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran.”[29] However, by the 1979 revolution, the Shah’s increasingly independent policies resulted in his effective abandonment by his American allies, hastening his downfall.[30] The coup is widely believed to have significantly contributed to anti-American and anti-British sentiment in Iran and in the Middle East. The 1979 revolution deposed the Shah and replaced the pro-Western monarchy with a largely anti-Western authoritarian theocracy.[31][32]