A new book and web project from the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank funded by the U.S. Congress, aims to be an authoritative reference, yet contains some false information.
The Iran Primer [link] assembles “50 top experts” to produce a comprehensive, categorized overview of the Islamic Republic,
which, they predict, is “sure to become a key text on the subject of Iranian policy”. Its centerpiece is "The Challenge of Iran" which offers contextual background dating back to Ancient Persia. The article was written by the editor herself, veteran journalist and author Robin Wright, a specialist on the Middle East and Iran. Yet Wright’s brief summary of the Mossadegh period contains deceptive language and one glaringly non-factual detail:
“In 1953, Iran went through a second burst of democratic activism. An elected government led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh challenged the second and last Pahlavi shah, who was also heavily influenced by foreign powers. Mossadegh’s four-party coalition advocated constitutional democracy and limited powers for the monarchy. It also wanted to nationalize Iranian oil after the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company refused a 50-50 profit-sharing deal. The shah’s attempt to have Mossadegh dismissed backfired; the backlash forced the monarch to flee to Rome. Foreign powers restored the monarchy. The CIA and British intelligence orchestrated riots that forced Mossadegh to resign and allowed the young king to return to the Peacock Throne for another quarter century.”
The problem? Dr. Mossadegh never resigned as Prime Minister in response to CIA/MI6 mob violence. He was not “forced” to resign. There was no ‘resignation’ to speak of.
Mossadegh’s political demise came about through a violent military coup which took place on August 19, 1953. Army officers armed with tanks and guns attacked Mossadegh’s residence and set fire to it, fully intending to kill him, as mobs looted his belongings. Mossadegh managed to escape the scene with his life, yet the coup succeeded in its task — the overthrow of Iran’s legitimate government. The following day, he had no choice but to turn himself in to the new coup regime. During the November show trial conducted in military tribunal court, Dr. Mossadegh repeatedly insisted he was the legal Premier of the country. At no point did he “resign” from his post following the events of 28 Mordad, as it is known in Persian.
An essential component of the CIA plan to overthrow Mossadegh (TP-AJAX) was having the reluctant shah “dismiss” Mossadegh by royal decree, then arrest him upon refusal. Saying “The shah’s attempt to have Mossadegh dismissed backfired”, gives the false impression that he acted independently. After this first act of treachery failed, the Shah chose to flee to Rome. No one “forced” him to do so, as Wright claims (“The backlash forced the monarch to flee to Rome.”)
Wright’s misleading description of the coup gives the impression that Mossadegh had somehow knocked the Shah off his throne, and that an Anglo-American plot swooped in and rescued him (“Foreign powers restored the monarchy.”), when in fact Mossadegh, who had always upheld Constitutional monarchy for the country, had no such aims.
Later in the article, Wright makes a point of mentioning the illegality of the 1979 US embassy takeover...
“Defying international law, Iranian students responded by seizing the U.S. Embassy in a drama that dragged out for 444 days.”
...while the inherent criminality of the 1953 coup goes unobserved, leaving the impression that the grievance is not a legal matter, but a political and subjective one.
Here’s why all this matters.
The US Institute of Peace deems The Iran Primer rather significant, describing it as “an unprecedented project by 50 of the world’s top scholars on Iran representing some 20 foreign policy think tanks, eight universities, and senior foreign policy officials from six U.S. administrations”. For a report that intends to be a reliable guide on contemporary Iran, their fact-checking standards could use an upgrade.
For example, three different experts refer to Madeline Albright’s cautious acknowledgement of the U.S. role in the 1953 coup during a 2000 speech as an apology. It’s a common misnomer among pundits, but factually inaccurate. One expert goes so far as to claim that the former Secretary of State “formally apologized”.
To their credit, they avoid repeating one ubiquitous Iran cliché (a huge mistranslation regarding Israel), but a correction is still in order. In the "Timeline of Iran’s Foreign Relations" section, it states that on March 27, 2005:
“Newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to “vanish in the pages of time.” The statement was widely interpreted as a call for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth.”
The problem? Ahmadinejad delivered that speech on October 26, 2005, not March 27th. He took office in August.