In 1951, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran, his main campaign promise being the nationalization of the country’s oil fields, which were owned by British Petroleum. The bill would pass unanimously in the Iranian Parliament, which would change Iran’s path forever. BP, despite being offered a reasonable buyout, did not wish to relinquish the oil fields, so the British government placed an economic embargo on Iran. In addition, the CIA began to brainstorm ways in which to eliminate the democratically elected prime minister.
Why would the CIA step in, you ask? Because Iran shared a long border with America’s Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union, and Iran was the most powerful nation in the Middle East. What commenced was Operation Ajax, one of the CIA’s most successful covert operations, which would remove Mossadegh and replace him with the Shah of Iran.
Life Under the Shah
One of Shah Pahlavi’s first acts was to sign the Consortium Agreement of 1954, which effectively gave 80% of the profits of Iranian oil to the UK and the US. Furthermore, the Shah was vigorously pro-Western, and focused on modernizing the country. However, he had a blatant disregard for democracy and was swift to deploy the SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, to suppress any and all rebellion. All of this was done with the support of the United States, as the CIA assisted in training SAVAK and gave millions of dollars to the Shah. By 1976, Amnesty International deemed Iran to have the worst human rights record in the world, and that the CIA taught SAVAK some of its most brutal torture techniques.
The Iranian Revolution
In 1978, Iran was crippled by a series of strikes and demonstrations against the Shah, ultimately forcing him into exile in January 1979. By April 1979, the citizens of Iran voted to become an Islamic Republic, eliminating the monarchy. Despite these events, the CIA continued to support the Shah, and meddled in Iranian affairs to try to undermine the young republic. Frustrated by the US support for the Shah, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy on November 4, 1979, taking 53 Americans hostage. One month later, Ayatollah Khomeini was made Supreme Leader of Iran.