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Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00

British oil interests defeated democracy

by Felicity Arbuthnot

Documents released in the US under freedom of information show deep British involvement in the overthrow 60 years ago of Iran's democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossaddegh

This week, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran Mohammad Mossaddegh, on August 19 1953, the US National Security Archive has released documents confirming the details of the coup and the grubby US-British involvement.

The document makes fairly clear that the British government has fought for much of those 60 years to prevent the details being made public.

The document, CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup, in a posting of recently declassified documents, "includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup."

Page one, subheaded: Decades of Delay asks: "Have the British been meddling with the FRUS (Foreign Relations of the United States) Retrospective Volume on 1953?"

In paragraphs which will surely raise questions as to possible ongoing misleading information about Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria, the document states: "The United Kingdom sought to expunge 'very embarrassing' information about its role in the 1953 coup in Iran from the official US history of the period, British documents confirm. The Foreign Office feared that a planned State Department publication would undermine UK standing in Iran." The cynic might ask: What standing?

Further: "The British censorship attempt happened in 1978, but London's concerns may play a key role even today in holding up the ... long-awaited history - even though US law required its publication years ago."

The dogged academics at the National Security Archive obtained the released documents through the US Freedom of Information Act, but opine that they feel that CIA intransigence is less to do with its own role in a decades-ago coup, but "its desire to protect lingering British sensitivities about 1953 - especially regarding the activities of the UK intelligence services. There is also evidence that State Department officials have been just as anxious to shield British interests over the years." Presumably in case they want a smallish island off France to act as "coalition" in further foreign shenanigans, as witnessed in recent years.

The US Historical Advisory Committee too had attempted to work with the British on an Iran retrospective volume as a joint venture "but the idea evidently went nowhere."

In seemingly a tacit rebuke, the archive document points out that the CIA has even released "troubling materials such as assassination manuals that demonstrate how to murder political opponents using anything from 'edge weapons'" to "bare hands" and in 2007 released details: "From planning to poison foreign leaders to conducting surveillance on US journalists."

Given that such deeply embarrassing information has been released in the past a question arises about the delays in this case: "Perhaps the British are just saying no and their US counterparts are just going along."

Archive deputy director Malcolm Byrne commented, on the nonsensical refusal to release such ancient material: "The basic facts are widely known to every schoolchild in Iran. Suppressing the details only distorts history and feeds in to myth-making on all sides."

The basis for the British-US coup in Iran resonates with more recent ones - Iraq, Libya and the ongoing meddling in Syria.

In 1951 the Iranian parliament - under the leadership of the nationalist movement of Mossaddegh - voted unanimously to nationalise the oil industry.

This shut out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company which was a pillar of Britain's economy and political clout. In July 1952, Mossaddegh was elected Iran's prime minister.

Kermit Roosevelt Jnr - grandson of former US president Theodore Roosevelt and CIA director of plans - the CIA and British intelligence funded, organised and led a campaign of black propaganda and bribery which resulted in a coup d'etat and the overthrow of Mossaddegh with the help of military forces loyal to the Shah. The plot hinged on orders signed by the Shah to dismiss Mossaddegh as prime minister and replace him with General Fazlollah Zahedi - a choice agreed on by Britain and the US.

A history that was to be repeated with Iraq puppet prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, president Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Libya's post coup Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

With Mossaddegh out of the way it was business as usual for Anglo-Iranian Oil, apart for a name change to British Petroleum Corporation (now BP) in 1954.

There was little the plotters did not map out. On July 22 1953 the CIA outlined the US official statement in anticipation of "a successful coup." The suggested text would be: "Crediting the Iranian people, under the leadership of their Shah" for the coup, which, it is pointed out: "Tracks precisely with the wording used by the State Department and the (UK) Foreign Office in their official paperwork."

Mossaddegh was imprisoned for three years, then spent the rest of his life under house arrest until his death in 1967.

He was buried at home since it was thought a public funeral might ignite passions in a populace now under the iron-fist rule of the US and Britain's pet the Shah whose fearsome Savak secret police were trained by the father of General Norman Schwartzkopf - of 1991 Iraq war and "no-one left to kill" comment.

A special commendation was recommended for the communications personnel who participated in coup - called Operation Ajax - for coping with "the exceptionally heavy volume of traffic which the operation has necessitated." A comment is made on the poignancy of this remark: "Given how little of that documentation has survived."

The episode further, led to deep mistrust between Iran and the US and Britain it is implied. Goodness, how extraordinary.

There is much more fascinating reading, with appended documents. search for: National Security Archive: CIA Confirms Role in 1953 Iran Coup, edited by Malcolm Byrne

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