Tuesday, June 20, 2017
New CIA/State Department Docs on the 1953 Iran Coup (Part 5)
This is part 5 of my series on the new CIA and State Department docs on the 1953 Iran Coup.
Part 6 will be about the events leading up to the coup in August, and the problems resulting from incomplete records from both the State Department and CIA.
The role of clerics in the 1953 Iranian coup is both difficult to determine, and a sensitive topic. The regime has ties back to the Iranian clerics, and one of the myths they work to perpetuate is that foreigners meddled in Iranian affairs. This is helped by American (read CIA) incentives to claim omnipotence and competence in masterminding a coup. Both parties have reasons to minimize clerical involvement. While the events between 15 and 19 of August 1953 are difficult to determine for reasons I will discuss later, there are several important events involving clerics that bear mentioning.
Of the clerical elements, Ayatollah Kashani is the most relevant. He was the speaker of the Iranian Majles (parliament), and for a time an ally of Mohammad Mossadeq, before becoming a bitter enemy. His worldview bears striking similarities to Ayatollah Khomeini as I pointed out in part 3 of my series.
A CIA source reported in September 1952 that Kashani was planning a coup to remove Mossadeq. This was before their big falling out in December 1952.
In early April 1953 Kashani supported the idea of a Zahedi-led coup, but at the same time didn't want to appear as though he was overly supportive in case things didn't work out.
Kashani did not give up his hopes for a coup. In mid April 1953 he was approached by another representative of the Shah about collaborating on a coup, and rather than turning them down, he made his own suggestions on how to best do it.
Another mid April memo from Waller of the CIA to Roosevelt notes the nature of the relationship between Kashani and Zahedi, and Kashani and two major clerics in Iran, Ayatollahs Boroujerdi and
Behbehani. Boroujerdi was Ayatollah Khomeini's teacher, and forbade him or any others from political activities. This memo notes an "understanding" that they would "bolster the shah". While this sounds overtly political in nature, the difference is that historically the clergy had supported the monarchy, and in turn received protection. While it is a bit of a departure from the normal, it is more of an affirmation of the perceived threat to the Shah that Mossadeq posed.
Interestingly the documents leading up to the coup after April make less mention of Kashani. At the same time, key pieces are redacted or not included so there is no way to know how involved he would have been in the plans. It is entirely possible that he was a key piece, or that he was uninvolved.