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24 June, 2017

CIA examined the possibility of assassination of the Iranian PM Mohammad Mosaddegh before the 1953 coup

On June 15th, the State Department released a long-awaited “retrospective” volume of declassified U.S. government documents on the 1953 coup in Iran. The volume includes fascinating details on Iranian, American and British planning and implementation of the covert operation, as well as information about U.S. contacts with key figures such as Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani, and insights into U.S. concerns about the growing influence of communist Tudeh Party. This Foreign Relations volume focuses on the use of covert operations by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations as an adjunct to their respective policies toward Iran, culminating in the overthrow of the Mosadeq government in August 1953. Moreover, the volume documents the involvement of the U.S. intelligence community in the policy formulation process and places it within the broader Cold War context. [nsarchive.gwu.edu]


The volume contains a significant amount of new information related to the 1953 coup. A memorandum from the then Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles, to President Eisenhower, on March 1st, 1953 (more than five months before the coup), shows that the US was monitoring closely the developments and the internal power balance in Iran.

Dulles examines the consequence of the "elimination of Mossadeq by assassination or otherwise", although it is not clear whether he refers to a possible operation that would be organized by the CIA.

He also monitors the power of Mossadeq's key opponent at that time, Mullah Kashani, and what would happen if Kashani would take power in case that "Mossadeq were to disappear".

He also describes the connections of the CIA and the British with Quasqai tribal leaders "with the view to eventual organization of resistance in southern Iran if the North should go Communist."

Some key points:

Ever since the assassination of General Razmara in March 1951, and the subsequent impasse and diplomatic break with Britain over the oil negotiations, the Iranian situation has been slowly disintegrating. The result has been a steady decrease in the power and influence of the Western democracies and the building up of a situation where a Communist takeover is becoming more and more of a possibility. However, even the present crisis is likely to be unsatisfactorily compromised without a Communist Tudeh victory. Of course, the elimination of Mossadeq by assassination or otherwise might precipitate decisive events except in the unlikely alternative that the Shah should regain courage and decisiveness.

The principal opposing forces are represented on the one hand by Prime Minister Mossadeq and, on the other, by Mullah Kashani, with the Shah apparently being used by Kashani.

Significant elements of the Army will probably remain loyal to the Shah, but whether or not they can be forged into an effective weapon in shaping political developments depends on the Shah’s determination to use them. So far this determination has not appeared. On the other hand, Mossadeq appears to retain control of the chain of command.

As between Mossadeq and Kashani, it appears that Mossadeq has still the greater strength although he has obviously lost some prestige in Parliament and among the people. Kashani’s following, however, is better consolidated in the capital through a well organized “street machine”, which Mossadeq does not possess.

If Mossadeq maintains control he will increase his efforts to remove or neutralize all opposition. His latent hostility toward the Shah is likely to increase. He might resent Henderson’s activities during the crisis. Mullah Kashani has been a key figure in promoting the pro-Shah street demonstrations. He has also led Parliament’s attack on Mossadeq. If Mossadeq were to disappear, Kashani would be a serious contender for his position. Although personally not acceptable to the Shah, the latter would be inclined to appoint him prime minister if recommended by Parliament.

CIA has been maintaining close contact with the Quasqai tribal leaders with the view to eventual organization of resistance in southern Iran if the North should go Communist. A considerable supply of small arms and ammunition has been assembled [less than 1 line not declassified] the nearest safe available base. A considerable amount of cash is available in Teheran. Both the arms and the cash could quickly be supplemented.

Although the British have steadfastly denied it, there have been persistent rumors that they have been organizing the southern Iranian tribes with a view to an uprising at an appropriate moment to preserve the southern portion of Iran from Communist control. British contact with these tribes in the past has been close, and this may constitute a contingent asset of some value to the West if the situation deteriorates further.


Mohammad Mosaddegh was an Iranian politician. He was the head of a democratically elected government, holding office as the Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 until 1953, when his government was overthrown in a coup d'état aided by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency and the United Kingdom's Secret Intelligence Service.

An author, administrator, lawyer, and prominent parliamentarian, his administration introduced a range of progressive social and political reforms such as social security and land reforms, including taxation of the rent on land. His government's most notable policy, however, was the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC/AIOC) (later British Petroleum and BP).

Many Iranians regard Mosaddegh as the leading champion of secular democracy and resistance to foreign domination in Iran's modern history. Mosaddegh was removed from power in a coup on 19 August 1953, organised and carried out by the CIA at the request of MI6, which chose Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to succeed Mosaddegh.

While the coup is commonly referred to in the West as Operation Ajax after its CIA cryptonym, in Iran it is referred to as the 28 Mordad 1332 coup, after its date on the Iranian calendar. Mosaddegh was imprisoned for three years, then put under house arrest until his death and was buried in his own home so as to prevent a political furor.


The Tudeh Party of Iran is an Iranian communist party. Formed in 1941, with Soleiman Mohsen Eskandari as its head, it had considerable influence in its early years and played an important role during Mohammad Mosaddegh's campaign to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and his term as prime minister. The crackdown that followed the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh is said to have "destroyed" the party, although it continued. The party still exists, but is much weaker as a result of the banning of the party and mass arrests by the Islamic Republic in 1982 and the executions of political prisoners in 1988.


Allen Welsh Dulles was an American diplomat and lawyer who became the first civilian but third Director of Central Intelligence and its longest-serving director to date. As head of the Central Intelligence Agency during the early Cold War, he oversaw the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, Operation Ajax (the overthrow of Iran's elected government), the Lockheed U-2 aircraft program and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dulles was one of the members of the Warren Commission. Between his stints of government service, Dulles was a corporate lawyer and partner at Sullivan & Cromwell. His older brother, John Foster Dulles, was the Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration.

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