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CIA Pushes Counter-Narrative of the 1953 Iran Coup

10:54 AM, Aug 21, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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When Mossadeq outmaneuvered the shah, Washington lost its nerve, writes Takeyh, but “Zahedi and his co-conspirators renewed their efforts, largely independent of Roosevelt and the CIA.” As pro-shah demonstrators took to the streets, Mossadeq “ordered the military to put an end to the disturbances—a military whose loyalty was suspect. Armed units took over key installations and eventually moved against Mossadeq, forcing him to flee.”

The CIA, writes Takeyh, was “startled.” It reported to the White House that “an unexpectedly strong surge of popular and military reaction to Prime Minister Mossadeq’s government has resulted, according to the latest dispatches from Tehran, in the virtual occupation of the city by forces professing their loyalty to the Shah and to his appointed Prime Minister Zahedi.”

With Mossadeq turning himself in, it wasn’t the victors who wrote history, but their auxiliaries, the CIA. As Takeyh writes:

In the ensuing decades, Kermit Roosevelt and other CIA alumni would embellish their role in toppling Mossadeq, but the U.S. government’s after-action assessment was much more modest. The CIA itself noted that it was the shah’s departure that turned the tide against Mossadeq. “The flight of the Shah brought home to the populace in a dramatic way how far Mossadeq had gone and galvanized the people into irate pro-Shah force,” a CIA cable read. Similarly, the U.S. embassy reported that “not only members of Mossadeq regime but also pro-Shah supporters were amazed at latter’s comparatively speedy and easy initial victory which was achieved with high degree of spontaneity.” Eisenhower, who as supreme commander of Allied forces during World War II knew something about covert operations, dismissed Roosevelt’s narrative as “more like a dime store novel than historical fact.”

So the National Security Archive has provided another chapter to the story of the 1953 coup, which as it turns out is a counter-narrative. As such, the CIA’s over-dramatizing its role in the affair would seem to contradict the argument the agency customarily rolls out when it’s caught with its guard down. The CIA’s failures are public, says agency advocates, but its successes are kept secret. In fact, its successes are well publicized, and aren’t even always their own. 

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