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Why Did the U.S. Help to Overthrow the Democratically Elected Governments of Iran 1953?

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The CIA has publicly admitted for the first time that it was behind the notorious 1953 coup against Iran's democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, in documents that also show how the British government tried to block the release of information about its own involvement in his overthrow. On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

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The American government is known promoting democratic values throughout the world. Despite the ideals America was fighting for in the Cold War from the 1940s to 1990s, the government still participated in the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil in 1951 and later gained the support of the Iranian Parliament. British companies had many investments in Iranian oil and with the approval of nationalization, the economies of both British and Iran were harmed. The British government requested the help of America to perform a coup on Mossadegh. With suspicions of Mossadegh supporting communism, the American government was willing to sacrifice their democratic encouragement and ideals for the insurance of an anti-communist leader. The forces attempting to overthrow Mossadegh were not willing to give up the coup even after the first night of failure and so the initiative continued. The shah, at this point, fled to Baghdad, too frightened to stay in Iran. By August 17th, the shah had signed the decrees needed for the coup. One dismissed Mossadegh and the other stated that General Zahedi would take Mossadegh’s place as Prime Minister. Many supporters of Mossadegh and Mossadegh himself believed that the danger of an overthrow was gone because of the shah’s departure to Baghdad. The counterattack occurred on August 19th which resulted in the arrest of Mohammed Mossadegh. He was sentenced to three years of jail and then was required to spend the rest of his life under house arrest

With Mossadegh out of power, the British and American governments implemented a new power, Shah Reza Pahlavi The decrees were provided by the British and American governments to the shah to gain security in the fact that there would be an anti-communist in power in Iran. Although anti-communist, Shah Reza Pahlavi would come to take over Iran as a dictatorship and not a democracy. Although the American government was seeking security with the overthrow of Mossadegh, over the long run, it is evident that the plan has backfired causing the reduction of the United State’s influence in the Middle East.

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With the overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq by a CIA-led and British-backed coup d’état on 19 August 1953, the landscape of Western involvement in the Middle East was forever changed

The event, today seen as one of the most prominent examples of US intervention in the Middle East, was rooted in a complex web of political and economic factors and gamesmanship played by the British and US governments. Correspondence between the government of Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the administration of President Harry S. Truman leading up to TPAJAX illuminates not only shifting Anglo-Iranian relations but also a widening gap in the Anglo-American power structure (Cabinet Papers). This essay examines the differing views of the United States and Britain on the postwar situation in Iran. In it argue that although the US government justified the coup as an effort to turn Iran from the path of communism, the United States, in fact, was led to intervene on behalf of the British government, which emphasized the communist threat in order to encourage US action (Richard J. Evans, 2008). The British concerns were less political, however. They were primarily economic and centered on the threatened loss of currency reserves that would follow nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).

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Ultimately, according to Stephen Kinzer, author of the book All the Shah's Men, Roosevelt quickly seized control of the Iranian press by buying them off with bribes and circulating anti-Mossadegh propaganda. He recruited allies among the Islamic clergy, and he convinced the shah that Mossadegh was a threat. The last step entailed a dramatic attempt to apprehend Mossadegh at his house in the middle of the night

But the coup failed. Mossadegh learned of it and fought back. The next morning, he announced victory over the radio.

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Cabinet Papers, Document Twenty-One. Persian Oil. 27 July 1951. The National Archives.

Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis led Germany from Conquest to Disaster (London: Allen Lane, 2008), 33.

Douglas Irwin et al., “The Genesis of the GATT.” 13 Feb. 2008. Accessed 8 August 2010, 25. Made available through the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Leo T. Crowley, “Lend-Lease” in Walter Yust, ed. 10 Eventful Years (1947) 1:520, 2: 858–60.

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