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Operation Ajax (1953) (officially TP-AJAX) was an Anglo-American covert operation to overthrow the democratically chosen government of Iran and Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and restore the exiled dictator Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to the throne.
Rationale for the intervention included Mossadegh's socialist rhetoric and his nationalization, without compensation, of the oil industry which was previously operated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The newly state-owned oil companies saw a sharp drop in productivity and, consequently, exports; this resulted in the Abadan Crisis, a situation that was further aggravated by a British-imposed economic blockade intended to coerce Mossadegh into reprivatization. In addition, the appropriation of the companies resulted in Western allegations that Mossadegh was a Communist and suspicions that Iran was in danger of falling under the influences of the neighboring Soviet Union. But Mossadegh refused to back down under international pressure.
A significant reason for the coup was an oil deal whereby the UK and the U.S. divided Iranian oil while giving minor pieces to Dutch and French interests. For the U.S., another important factor was Iran's border with the Soviet Union. A pro-American Iran under the Shah would give the U.S. a double strategic advantage in the ensuing Cold War, as a NATO alliance was already in effect with the government of Turkey, also bordering the USSR.
In planning the operation, the CIA organized a guerrilla force in case the Stalinist Tudeh Party seized power as a result of the chaos created by Operation Ajax. According to formerly "Top Secret" documents released by the National Security Archive, Undersecretary of State Walter Smith reported that the CIA had reached an agreement with Qashqai tribal leaders in southern Iran to establish a clandestine safe haven from which U.S.-funded guerrillas and intelligence agents could operate.
Operation Ajax was the first time the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated a plot to overthrow a democratically-elected government. The success of this operation, and its relatively low cost, encouraged the CIA to successfully carry out a similar operation in Guatemala a year later. However, many historians argue that dissatisfaction with the reinstalled Shah led directly to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Iran has not returned to democracy since Mossadegh's overthrow; Western countries have raised serious concerns about its potential development of nuclear weapons and continuing support for anti-Israeli Islamic terror groups, particularly the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The leader of Operation Ajax was Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., a senior CIA agent, and grandson of the former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. While formal leadership was vested in Kim Roosevelt the project was designed and executed by Donald Wilber, a career contract CIA agent and acclaimed author of books on Iran, Afghanistan and Ceylon.
- 50 Years Later - A look back at the 1953 US Backed Coup in Iran
- How to Overthrow A Government - Interview with Steven Kinzer, author of "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror"
- The C.I.A. in Iran - New York Times report based on uncovered CIA documents
- The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup, 1953 - Provided by the National Security Archive
- All The Shah's Men - Interview with Steven Kinzer
- Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran - New book from the National Security Archive reexamines the coup
- A Very Elegant Coup - Critique of "All the Shah's Men"
- All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror - Critique of Kinzer's book, by D.S. Robarge, member of CIA's History Staff
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