A “Crippling Blow” To Coup Plotters

CIA Reacts To Shah’s Hasty Departure From Iran

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | December 17, 2021                    

The Iranian Situation | CIA Report, August 17, 1953

The failure of the attempted coup against the government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh on August 16th, 1953 was a jolt to the CIA, which orchestrated the plot. Yet you’d never know it from their reports the following day, written as though they were mere outside observers. They even suggested that Premier Mossadegh would (correctly!) blame the U.S. and Britain due to paranoia.

This report was unseen until 2017, when it was released as part of the long delayed FRUS volume on Iran. For a related document, see Assessment of the Iranian Situation, another CIA report from the same day which also included a timeline.

CIA Documents on Iran, Mossadegh, 1953 Coup

275. Memorandum Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency

Washington, August 17, 1953.


            The Iranian Situation

1. The unsuccessful attempt to remove Mossadeq from power this weekend, culminating in the flight of the Shah to Iraq, greatly advances the progressive deterioration of political stability in Iran.

2. On the one hand, Mossadeq’s numerous non-Communist opponents have been dealt an almost crippling blow and may never again be in a position to make a serious attempt to overthrow him. The chief figures in the attempt to oust Mossadeq are already in jail or in hiding, thus at least temporarily eliminating or neutralizing the most vigorous of these opponents. Even more important, the Shah’s flight—a move which may well be followed by the appointment of a regency council and may even lead to designation of a new Shah or abolition of the monarchy—greatly weakens the ability of Mossadeq’s opponents to combine against him in the future. The withdrawal of the Shah from Iranian soil not only deprives the opposition of a central figure about which it could rally but also eliminates virtually all hope that the considerable prestige and authority of the monarchy could be used to secure the necessary cooperation of the security forces and reassure the public in any future effort to oust Mossadeq. Except in the unlikely event that a strong and resolute opposition majority develops in some future Majlis, any future attempt to unseat Mossadeq will necessarily be an out-and-out coup, without legal sanction.

3. On the other hand, Mossadeq’s position will remain basically precarious, despite the temporary advantages which he will obtain from the failure of the attempt to unseat him and from the repressive measures he is likely to undertake to consolidate his victory. The events of the weekend are unlikely to provoke any great revival of enthusiasm for Mossadeq himself, and in any event his probable continued failure to solve the basic economic and social problems facing Iran will result in a slow but steady drain on his popular support. While Mossadeq will probably make greater use of authoritarian methods, he shows little promise of being able to eliminate all opposition. If Mossadeq goes through with new Majlis elections, as appears likely, his prestige plus his ability to rig the balloting will probably enable him to obtain a majority. However, he is likely to be little more successful than in the past in finding men who will stand by him once they are elected.

4. Thus the ultimate beneficiary of the failure to unseat Mossadeq is most likely to be the Tudeh Party which has regarded the neutralization of the “counterrevolutionary” forces around the Shah as a primary objective and which has also capitalized on the widening popular unrest and insecurity which has been developing under Mossadeq. Although Mossadeq’s reassertion of his authority makes it less likely that he will have to make important concessions to Tudeh to stay in office, Tudeh is not yet ready to seize control and will probably feel compelled to confine itself to pressure group tactics for the next few months. Nevertheless, Tudeh is at present the only remaining major contender for Mossadeq’s power, and as the deterioration of the political and economic situation in Iran progresses its capabilities for an eventual showdown with Mossadeq will continue to grow. In the event of Mossadeq’s death, Tudeh might well be able to capitalize on the confusion which would probably result and to gain control at least in Tehran.

5. Mossadeq’s innate suspiciousness, which has probably been reinforced by the events of the weekend, may lead him to link the attempt to unseat him with the recent hardening of US policy toward him and to represent the attempt as an “imperialist” plot engineered by the US and UK. Even if Mossadeq convinces himself that the US is involved, however, we believe that he is likely to stop short of provoking an open break with the US. He will probably still feel the need of the US as a counterweight to the USSR, with which an attempt to settle outstanding problems is now under way. Moreover, he has long believed that if he held on long enough and thus proved that he was the man to deal with, fear of Communism would eventually force the US to come to his help. With his control newly reconfirmed and the opposition seriously weakened, Mossadeq probably believes that this concept is more valid than ever. Although he will probably criticize and seek to embarrass the US, his main object will probably be that of forcing the US to assist him on his terms.

• Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017)

• “Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDI Files, Job 79T00937A, Box 2, Folder 2, Staff Memoranda—1953 Substantive. Secret; Security Information.” — State Dept. Office of the Historian

LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah’s Baghdad Sojourn
LOST IN IRAQ: The Shah's Baghdad Sojourn | Aug. 16, 1953

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Related links:

CIA Drafts Official U.S. Statement For After 1953 Coup In Iran

Political Prospects In Iran | CIA Report, July 29, 1953

Kermit Roosevelt on CIA Suppression of Iranian Communists | Oct. 9, 1951

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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