In the spring of 1951, utterly exuberant by the news of Razmara’s assassination, the National Front leaders, Mosaddegh and Kashani intimidated the conservative Majles deputies into accepting the populist mantra of oil nationalization, or expect a similar fate as Razmara! Hence, the nationalization bill was passed by the reluctant Majles and the Shah, even though none of them believed in it or even knew how to implement it!
Ludicrously, based on the most pervasive Persian political dogma that “everything is controlled by the English”, at the beginning even the Shah perceived Mosaddegh as a British super-agent, who had to be feared and accommodated! Therefore, when everyone refused to accept the responsibility of implementing the oil nationalization bill, the frail Mosaddegh who only had a 10% voting block in the Majles, came to power as the new prime minister! At the time, the prime ministers’ average office-life was less than a year; so the conservative royalists, who voted for Mosaddegh’s new cabinet, figured that the ‘old man’ was a neurotic populist whose government would quickly disintegrate.
The impossible task of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry (with no technicians, engineers, tankers or customers) not only created a major crisis for the new Mosaddegh government, but also shook the confidence of the Labour Party premier in London. The socialist Attlee government was nationalizing many bankrupt British industries in the wake of the WWII damages and the wave of colonial independence (especially India). But he could not afford to lose the lucrative AIOC, or force a military solution! That is how for two years, the largest oil refinery of the world in Abadan was stopped; all the crude oil exports were terminated; and Iran was placed under a virtual trade embargo.
Britain then asked the Democrat US president (Truman), who was on good terms with Mosaddegh, to intervene in the oil crisis; and at the same time, took Iran to the international court of justice in Holland. But neither a long and hospitable stay in the United States, nor the legal actions could change the old man’s views by a millimetre! Mosaddegh was of the opinion that, “the British are wicked and everything that they touch turns nasty! Iran was better off before them and will only improve, when all their influence is gone!” That one-dimensional view shaped the two Mosaddegh years, which can only be compared with the 1906 and the 1979 Revolutionary periods of the 20th century.
The first year of Mosaddegh’s premiership was successfully spent at wild battles on three fronts (oil, Majles and Shah), where glorious victories elevated him from an elite politician to the coveted position of a national hero. Mosaddegh sent the troops to take over the oil installations in Khuzestan and effectively forced the British to relinquish 50 years of monopoly over the Iranian petroleum industry. In the new parliament elections, his supporters and allies won a slim majority in Tehran and other major cities, and pre-emptively invalidated the unfavourable and dubious results coming from the small towns and villages, where the royalist conservatives had the upper hand.
With a cooked Majles majority at hand, Mosaddegh asked Shah for the control of army (nomination of war minister) and upon his refusal, resigned in such a dramatic fashion that plunged the country into open rebellion (30th of Tir). Fearing a full-scale revolution by the hardliners and the Tudeh party (who were behind most riots), Shah had to reinstate the ‘old man’ with the promise that Mosaddegh would not topple the Pahlavi dynasty and in return, Shah would desist from undue interference with political affairs. Next day, the ruling from the international court in Holland came in favour of Mosaddegh, which led to unprecedented jubilations in Tehran and major cities. It seemed an old and stubborn Persian had finally defeated the loathed Anglos!
Unfortunately, Mosaddegh’s second year in the office unravelled all the gains of his first! He proved to be much better as the speaker for opposition than the leader of government, and much more resourceful in weakness than tactful in power. His emotional and authoritative style (my way or no way) soon upset and aggravated most of the nationalist and Islamist allies, who gradually turned into sworn enemies. Finally, when Mosaddegh lost the majority support in Majles, he simply dissolved it, in order to prevent the parliament from voting him out of the office!
After the Holland defeat, the beaten British were begging for a compromise, but Mosaddegh stubbornly refused any negotiation, on any terms but the full nationalization. In UK and US, his image changed from a peculiar but respectable nationalist to a dangerous adventurer, or even a communist sympathizer. Mosaddegh’s unrealistic, sentimental and stubborn style of government gradually united all his old and new enemies around the single goal of his dismissal!
Mosaddegh’s only remaining allies were a minority in the National Front (young enthusiasts like Fatemi) and a fraction in the still illegal Tudeh Party. Nevertheless, he continued to enjoy much popularity among the emotionally charged Iranians, who were mesmerized by his dogged determination.
By summer of 1953, Mosaddegh who had earlier dissolved the Majles (through a controversial referendum) was ruling by decree. He had gained a near complete control over the government and the security forces, but at the cost of aggravating some very powerful political players inside and outside Iran! To the Shah, conservatives, Islamists and even the moderate nationalists, he was an out-of-control autocrat. However, Mosaddegh had no clear plans of how to run the bankrupt country, how to deal with the growing legion of his enemies, and how to re-start the oil industry! He was often emotionally exhausted, bed ridden and unbalanced.
For the newly installed rightwing governments in Washington (Eisenhower) and London (Churchill), Mosaddegh was a communist enabler! That is how they became motivated to sponsor an odd coalition of the young Shah, Kashani (Islamist), Bagha’i (nationalist), Shaaban Jafari (street thug) and general Zahedi (maverick). During the coup-d’état that toppled Mosaddegh on 28th of Mordad 1953, a small segment of the security forces fought for the premier. However, after half-a-day of street battles and some 300 casualties, the royalist coalition prevailed. The Tudeh party leadership was divided and stayed on the sidelines, as Moscow was too confused during the bloody power-struggles following Stalin’s death.
Reference: All the Shah's Men, by S. Kinzer.
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