Intrigues and Power Plays in Tehran
March 3, 1953 — The Associated Press

The Mossadegh Project          

Breakdown of Iran Oil Talks
Stirred Riots Against Mossy

Associated Press Staff Writer

AP (The Associated Press) TEHRAN, IRAN—Iran’s current crisis stems mainly from the fact that Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh needed to be in a strong political position before telling his near-bankrupt nation that negotiations for settlement of the oil dispute with Britain have not been successful.

The merchant class has become aroused by the heavy load of taxation, a fact blamed upon loss of oil revenues resulting from Iran's nationalization of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian oil company properties in Iran. Britain has so far blocked Iran from selling the oil in world markets.

The prime minister apparently sensed that the resentment of the merchant class could be exploited by his enemies to force a showdown with the government.

IN ADDITION, MOSSADEGH apparently got word that a group of retired army officers, embittered at having been retired by the prime minister, had begun quiet moves to bring about the government's fall. The president of the Retired Officers' Club, Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi, was reported forming a shadow cabinet to take over. Semi-official press reports linked the same group with the uprising of Bakhtiari tribesmen in Khuzistan Province at the same time.

Reliable sources said Mossadegh felt these maneuvers were backed by royal court circles and determined on a showdown with the shah.

Local press circles predicted Mossadegh would try to curb the power of the court by bringing its finances under direct government control. The royal estates—long tax free—were to be placed under the government and taxed, and the income from the estates used to finance social services. Mossadegh also planned to take over the wealthy endowment of the Shrine of Imam Reza in Meshed, a religious endowment under the court since the time of Reza Shah, the present shah's father.

TEN DAYS AGO THE PRESS began to carry accounts of the growing shah-Mossadegh crisis and the series of meetings between the government and the court.

A week ago Mossadegh threatened to broadcast to the people. Friendly press circles reported he had a long list of alleged court intrigues against him which he would recite, including interference by the queen mother and Princess Ashraf before their departure to Europe.

The threat to broadcast scored for Mossadegh. Last Tuesday he talked to the shah for 4½ hours, at which time an agreement for the shah to leave the country, at least temporarily, apparently was worked out. Mossadegh agreed to refrain from deposing or taking other action against the monarch if he would stay out of the country till the situation was normal.

The following day Mossadegh cracked down on the retired officers' clique by arresting Zahedi. The press reported other officers were linked to Zahedi and the Bakhtiari uprisings and hinted other arrests might follow.

THE SHAH REVEALED PLANS for his departure last Saturday morning. The Mossadegh victory looked complete. With the shah out of the country, Mossadegh would have almost complete control and the opposition would lack the power and prestige of the court to balance the government strength.

Sensing this danger, Ayatollah Seyed Abolghassem Kashani, high Moslem priest and parliament speaker and an old rival of Mossadegh, moved into action. He influenced the parliament to request the shah to remain; called for closing of the bazaars and reportedly brought crowds of his followers to the streets to demonstrate. It was the first time Kashani had supported the shah.

The retired officers instantly joined the demonstrations, demanding the shah remain. The shah consented.

Angry, Mossadegh told a secret session of parliament Saturday night he would go to the people and call for a referendum if the government position was not "clarified" within 48 hours. It is hard to see what this would do, since Iran tried for months to elect 136 members of parliament and only got about half of them chosen before calling off the poll.

The weekend troubles are considered a standoff, with the big issue still undecided—whether Mossadegh or the shah is master of Iran.

Related links:

"Mossadegh's Reckless Game Rules Him Out" — March 2, 1953 (AP)

"Mossadegh: No Again" — New York Times editorial, March 22, 1953

The CIA Scheme to Have the Shah 'Dismiss' Mossadegh — August 16, 1953

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

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