Regime change in Iran: yesterday and tomorrow

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"Yankee Go Home" graffiti, Tehran, Iran on August 21, 1953

President Donald Trump is ratcheting up the pressure against Iran, as well as elsewhere. Indeed, his election campaign was fought partly on the “bad deal” that was struck over Iran and nuclear weapons. Now he has pulled out of the deal and is putting pressure on others to do the same. In order to understand the current situation we should revisit the history of meddling by the US.

The coup, jointly sponsored by both the CIA and MI6, that overthrew the elected Mohammad Mossadeq government in 1953 and installed the Shah in power as absolute monarch ruling by fear and terror, is remembered in Iran as one of the most important, indeed traumatic, events in the country’s modern history. It is, of course, almost completely unknown in both Britain and the US, even though it provides a vital context for developments today.

The best way to appreciate the impact that the coup had is to imagine if it had been the Iranian government intervening in British politics. Imagine, for example, that Britain in the 1940s was dominated by Imperial Iran with the coal industry completely in Iranian hands. In 1945 a Labour government is elected that proceeds to nationalise the coal industry in the face of fierce Iranian opposition. The Iranian government considers a military invasion to occupy the coalfields, but is prevented from going down this road by pressure from the US. Instead preparations are put underway to organise a coup to overthrow the Labour government. Eventually the Labour government is overthrown by a joint Iranian-US sponsored coup that installs an absolute monarchy headed up by someone just made for the job, reactionary bigot Prince Philip. The Labour movement is crushed with thousands of activists thrown into prison and many of them tortured and killed.

This coup would be still seen today as one of the most important events in modern British history, providing the context for everything that happened after.

And this is exactly what the British state did to Iran when the Mossadeq government dared to nationalise the oil industry.

Initially the Labour government considered military intervention, with the foreign secretary, Herbert Morrison, urging that the troops be sent in. Morrison had been a conscientious objector in the First World War but years as a Labour MP had, as is often the case, turned him into a wholehearted militarist and imperialist. When the US pressured the Labour government into giving up the idea of military intervention, prime minister Clement Attlee, together with Morrison, briefed the man put in charge of overthrowing Mossadeq and preparations for the coup began.

Soon after, the Labour government was replaced by the Conservatives under Churchill. The decision was made to undertake the coup in alliance with the US, a reluctant recognition that the US was becoming the dominant power in the region. The coup finally took place in August 1953. The BBC was directly involved in the organisation of the coup and the CIA worked closely with Iran’s Islamists in bringing down the elected government, something neither party is too keen to admit today.

Once in place, the Shah imposed a brutal police state that routinely used torture and imprisoned and executed many of the new regime’s opponents on the left. The regime became one of the mainstays of US power in the Middle East.

What we see today is a Trump government once again determined on regime change in Iran, intent on reducing the country to puppet status in a Middle East dominated by Israel and Saudi Arabia in the interests of the US. While Trump still accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons programme, a completely false accusation that even most of the people making it do not believe (who knows what he believes), there is a growing belief that Saudi Arabia is covertly developing nuclear weapons with US connivance, something intended to fix Saudi-Israeli dominance over the region once and for all.