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Historical Consequences of Patriotic Leadership

Mohammad Mosadegh

Northeastern Illinois University proudly keeps the legacy of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh alive by awarding scholarships name after him. When students apply for the Mossadegh scholarships they learn about servant leadership.  Similarly, the public learns about the significance of the late Iranian prime minister when they attend the annual Mossadegh Servant Leaders lecture, which highlights and connects public service with current sociopolitical challenges following his motto of “I am servant of the people.” Mossadegh Hall is the only academic space in the world named after the patriot. Students study and discuss their plans for the future under the full view of his name and portraits. For millions of Iranians across the world the name Mossadegh is synonymous with dutiful patriotism, independence with dignity, and Chicago is first to publicly recognize him. For many Americans he’s an unknown figure but once they hear and read about him they are struck by his accomplishments.

Credit: Northeastern Illinois University

The great grandson of Iran’s reformist Qajar prince, Abbas Mirza, Mohammad Mossadegh was born on June 16, 1882 in Tehran to Mirza Hedayat Ashtiani a finance minister and Najm al-Saltaneh. In 1909 he married Zahra Khanom, one of Nasir al-Din Shah’s granddaughters and soon after attended college abroad and studied political science and law in France and then in Switzerland where he received his doctorate in 1913. Upon his return to Iran he briefly taught at Tehran School of Political Science and then held various posts in government.  He served as Member of Parliament, governor of Fars and Azerbaijan, and justice, finance, and foreign minister at different periods.       

Mossadegh was appointed as the Iranian prime minister on April 29, 1951. He had been an active member of the National Front (Jibheh-ye Melli), which was composed of several political parties that aimed to nationalize the oil industry and democratize the Iranian political system.  Iranian oil had been under almost full control of the British since 1901 when Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar granted William Knox D’arcy the exclusive right to “search for and obtain, exploit, develop, render suitable for trade, carry away and sell natural gas, petroleum, asphalt and ozokerite . . . for a term of sixty years” in all but five provinces in Iran.  In addition to paying the government some cash and stocks the Iranian government received sixteen percent of net profits from D’arcy’s concession income and paid no taxes on imports or exports.        

It was in May 1908 that D’arcy discovered oil in Masjed Soleiman but by then he was almost bankrupt and hence partnered with the British government, which funded his venture by establishing the Anglo-Persian Oil Company  (Sherkat-e Naft-e Engelis va Iran). With Iranian oil the British naval fleet was able to switch its source of energy from coal to petroleum after D’arcy’s death in 1917 and APOC continued its work under Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in the 1930s at Reza Shah’s insistence. The original D’arcy contract went through several changes but until 1953 the British benefitted the most from the deal, as they were committed not to lose a major natural resource that proved essential.        

Unhappy with Mossadegh’s plans soon after his appointment the British imposed severe economic sanctions and launched various political efforts to remove him from office. Their efforts initially failed, however, and it was after the pro-Mossadegh uprisings of July 21, 1952/30 Teer 1331 showing great support for him that the British thought of a military overthrow of his government. As part of their plan they were successful to cause tension within the close circle of Mossadegh associates and soon internal political contention effected his government.  It didn’t take long before Iranian born British agents the Rashidian brothers began agitating against Mossadegh. To his detriment Mossadegh lost support among the National Front notables such as Ayatollah Abulqasem Kashani, Mozaffar Baqai, and Hossein Makki. The situation worsened when his enemies fomented protests and provoked revolts in the capital ending in the murder of Mossadegh’s police chief with British assistance. With strengthening anti-Mossadegh fervor he broke off diplomatic relations with Great Britain in October of the same year.        

Although President Truman appeared intended to settle issues between Iran and Britain the next American administration put the issue in a Cold War perspective and because the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party supported the National Front’s efforts the United States wrongly considered Mossadegh’s agenda in tune with Soviet policies and that’s when it sent agents to lessen the influence of the Soviets by acting against the Tudeh Party members which were active in the National Front causing more tension between the National Front leaders and its base. The British convinced President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration to plan and implement a military coup to overthrow Mossadegh’s government and install the government of General Fazlollah Zahedi. The CIA carried out the operation code named AJAX while the British provided necessary support on the ground by connecting foreign and native operatives.  As the first attempt failed in its initial stage (August 15) the Americans tried a second time and with the help of the mob and spending a nominal amount of resources ousted Mossadegh from power and installed Zahedi as prime minister on 28 Mordad 1332/August 19, 1953.  After the Coup he was court-martialed and sentenced to three years in prison. He remained under house arrest afterwards in his residence in the village of Ahmadabad and buried there after he died on March 5, 1967.        

In Spring 2000, after years of denial and discrediting those who believed in the Coup as a Western plot that derailed the evolution of a nascent democratic process in Iran the United States finally confessed to meddling in Iranian internal affairs. US Secretary of State Madeline Albright admitted, “In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.” The Secretary’s admission to the Coup was a good will gesture that failed to produce the desired effect of better relations with Iran. The Coup of 1953 essentially created a sense of mistrust of Americans in the Iranian political culture that Iranians have yet to overcome. 

Public opinion about Mohammad Mossadegh varies. His name stirs emotions from adoration and respect to accusatory anger. His approach to the nationalization process may be questioned but the results are hard to ignore. For the most part history has judged him in good light because he led the movement that ended British supremacy in Iran with international consequences. The Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal in July 1956 and the nationalization of the oil industry in Iraq in June 1972 are two examples of his inspiring others to follow suit. It is hard to imagine where Iran would be today without his dedication. As Iranians strive for democratic rule, respect, and self-reliance one can argue Mossadegh’s struggle continues in a different context. 

From Facebook: The Mossadegh Initiative at NEIU
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