Prospects For Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran

CIA's Secret Report to Pres. Truman — Oct. 1952

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | February 1, 2011                      

Prospects For Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran

In 1952, the Central Intelligence Agency prepared the top secret document Prospects For Survival of Mossadeq Regime In Iran “in response to an urgent specific request”.

The State Department, Joint Staff and intelligence departments of the entire U.S. military participated in its conclusions, intended for the eyes of President Harry S. Truman, who only had three more months in office.

This estimate found Dr. Mossadegh to be “the dominant political force in Iran”, but believed Ayatollah Kashani to be his greatest challenger. Contrary to propaganda trends, the Communist Tudeh party was, in their judgment, not well positioned to take power, and given the choice, would probably support Kashani, not Mossadegh.

Moreover, it was believed that Mossadegh was so popular that even if Kashani managed to persuade the Majles to dismiss him, he would likely return to power in a sequence similar to the famous pro-Mossadegh uprising of July 1952.

Mossadegh’s legal government was ultimately overthrown on August 19, 1953 as a result of a military coup — a method described here as “not likely to succeed”.

CIA Documents on Iran, Mossadegh, 1953 Coup

October 14, 1952


1. On the basis of available evidence we believe that the Mossadeq Government can survive at least for the next six months unless ill-health or death removes Mossadeq from the Iranian political scene.

2. If Kashani should come to power, the most probable result would be the progressive deterioration of Iran, possibly leading to the eventual assumption of power by the Tudeh.


The Oil Issue

3. An early settlement of the oil dispute with the UK is unlikely. Political forces which Mossadeq himself encouraged in the past now require him to insist upon greater concessions than the British have given any indication of finding acceptable. On the other hand, Mossadeq’s prestige would be greatly enhanced if he succeeded in effecting the sale of oil despite the British boycott.

The Economic Situation

4. The loss of oil revenues has not seriously damaged the Iranian economy, primarily because of an excellent harvest, although there have been some price increases, curtailment of urban business activities, and reduction of imports. However, the financial position of the government has been seriously affected. Unless the government restores revenues from the sale of oil, substantial budgetary cuts and/or extensive internal borrowing and further currency expansion are inevitable.

Factors of Political Power

5. a. Recent events have produced far-reaching changes in the traditional factors of political power in Iran. As a practical matter, the Shah has almost completely lost his capability for independent action, but is a useful tool for Mossadeq, should need arise. The formerly dominant landowning class has also lost political initiative. The Armed Forces, if given effective direction, are probably capable of coping with any type of domestic disturbance presently foreseeable. We do not believe that their effectiveness has been materially reduced by Mossadeq’s changes in the high command. Mossadeq’s popular prestige makes him still the dominant political force in Iran.

b. A major threat to Mossadeq’s continued control over the heterogeneous National Front arises from the activities of Mullah Kashani, ambitious Moslem leader. Kashani’s extreme intransigence on the oil issue and his uncompromising demands for the termination of all foreign interference in Iran severely limit Mossadeq’s freedom of action. He has successfully separated many National Front politicians from Mossadeq. Although Kashani has expressed optimism publicly with respect to his ability to control Tudeh, he is basically opposed to their aims, probably can weigh with shrewdness and accuracy the potential value and danger to him of Tudeh support, and is not likely under present conditions to seek their help.

c. While the Tudeh Party has become stronger in recent months, it is almost incapable by itself of overthrowing the government by force or subversion at present. Although the Tudeh Party has an organization, has a significant degree of favorable public opinion, and has the cooperation of the USSR, it still lacks a legal status and the power in the Majlis and control of the key Cabinet positions which would be necessary to take over the government by constitutional means. The Tudeh Party will, however, probably support Kashani in the belief that if Kashani were in power its opportunities for taking over the country would be improved.

Likelihood of an Attempt to Overthrow Mossadeq

6. Since Mossadeq’s return to power in July 1952 there have been continuous reports of plots to overthrow him. Kashani and Army officers are frequently mentioned as leaders, but the reports conflict on matters of essential detail. It does not seem likely that Kashani will seek to replace Mossadeq so long as no clear issues of disagreement arise between them, so long as his influence on Mossadeq remains strong, and so long as Mossadeq is willing to assume responsibility. So far as a military coup is concerned, we have no evidence to indicate that any group of officers has the capability which the initiation of a successful coup would require.

Probable Outcome of an Attempt to Overthrow Mossadeq

7. In the event that an attempt is made to overthrow Mossadeq, the following means are available:

   a. Violent Means:

       i. Military Coup: A military coup against Mossadeq is not likely to succeed because Mossadeq has had the opportunity to eliminate elements in the Army hostile to him, and none of the Army personnel reported as currently being involved in plots against Mossadeq are believed to have the prestige or influence to obtain the necessary support from the Army.

       ii. Mob Violence: A contest in the streets between the forces supporting Mossadeq and Kashani would be bitter and destructive. The lineup of forces would depend in large part on the specific issues involved at the time the rioting broke out. If there should be a break now between Mossadeq and Kashani, we believe that Mossadeq could rally greater forces than Kashani. The lineup would probably be as follows:

(a) Mossadeq: the bulk of the National Front rank and file in the cities; Dr. Baghai’s Iranian Workers’ Party with their organised street-fighting forces; the Somka (Fascist) Party, provided the Tudeh supported Kashani; the Pan Iranian Party; and the Army and part of the Police Force, provided they were given specific and direct orders.

(b) Kashani: his followers in the National Front; the Bazaar mobs and the bands organized by his son; the Fedayan terrorist organization of Moslem extremists; the Tudeh and its various subsidiaries; and possibly some support from the tribes if the Army sided with Mossadeq.

       iii. Assassination: Assassination of Mossadeq would probably result in the accession to power of Kashani. (Note: Kashani would probably also come to power if Mossadeq should retire or die a natural death.)

b. Constitutional means: An attempt may be made to overthrow Mossadeq after the Majlis reconvenes on 9 October. It appears unlikely that Kashani could persuade the Majlis to vote to oust Mossadeq in view of the absence of any issue which could serve as a basis for attacking Mossadeq, the resources at Mossadeq’s disposal for controlling the deliberations of the Majlis and Mossadeq’s record as champion of nationalist aspirations. Moreover. Mossadeq in opposition would possess much of the strength which enabled him to regain power in July 1952, and his return to office would not be unlikely.

Consequences of the Assumption of Power by Kashani

8. If Kashani were to come to power, the consequences would depend upon the circumstances of the take-over and upon the group or groups supporting him at that time. Kashani might come to power by:

    a. A vote of the Majlis unseating Mossadeq.

    b. Assuming control over another National Front regime if Mossadeq were removed from the political scene.

    c. A deal with the Tudeh Party by which Tudeh was given representation in the government.

    d. A coalition with various disgruntled Army leaders and conservative elements. If Kashani should come to power, the probable net result in Iran would be a situation worse for Western interests than the current one. The regime would be more difficult than the present one to deal with on the oil dispute and more resistant to all Western influence. The effectiveness of the government and the security forces would decline, as would the economic situation. There is no assurance that the regime would not be overthrown by Mossadeq, by internal dissension, or by a military coup, with trend changes we cannot presently predict. However, the probable ultimate consequence of a Kashani regime would be the progressive general deterioration of Iran possibly leading to the eventual assumption of power by the Tudeh.

1 This estimate has been prepared in response to an urgent specific request and is an interim estimate pending the preparation of a more comprehensive one which is under way.

• Declassified by the Central Intelligence Agency on December 29, 1982

The memo below prepared for CIA chief Allen Dulles adds additional insight. Perhaps the week-long gap between the date of this letter and the SE (Special Estimate) it discussed was due to some delay prior to being approved by Dulles. Note that a portion just above the signature of Sherman Kent was excised. Declassified by the CIA on September 27, 2009. [Added May 9, 2017]

7 October 1952


SUBJECT: SE-33: Prospects for Survival of Mossadeq Regime in Iran


1. This estimate, requested by the NSC Senior Staff, [National Security Council] was initiated on 2 October on a crash basis. It focuses primarily on the possible replacement of Mossadeq by Kashani — admittedly only one aspect of the Iranian situation insofar as it affects US security interests. The agency representatives concur that SE-33 cannot be considered an adequate substitute for a full-scale NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] on Iran.


2. G-2 reserved the right to raise at the IAC meeting [Intelligence Advisory Committee] its belief that paragraph 6, Consequences of the Assumption of Power by Kashani, was beyond the scope of this paper -- particularly in view of the estimate that Kashani was not likely to seek to overthrow Mossadeq and was not likely to succeed if he did make such an attempt.

From the nature of requests for this estimate I feel that the subject of this paragraph is the one upon which our consumers most desire our best thought.

3. As far as we have been able to ascertain, no objections will be raised to the present text in the IAC meeting.

Assistant Director
National Estimates

Ayatollah Kashani’s Threat to Mossadegh | CIA, Sept. 1952
The assassination of Iranian Premier Ali Razmara — March 1951


Related links:

CIA Diary: Mossadegh “Crazy Like A Fox”, Willing To Deal With U.S. (July 1952)

The CIA Scheme to Have the Shah ‘Dismiss’ Premier Mossadegh — August 16, 1953

All the Sham’s Men: How the CIA Used ‘Anti-Communism’ To Destroy Iran’s Democracy

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

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