Trying to Persuade a Reluctant Shah
The plot was under way, even though the shah was a reluctant warrior and Mr. Eisenhower had yet to give his final approval.
In early June, American and British intelligence officials met again, this time in Beirut, and put the finishing touches on the strategy. Soon afterward, the chief of the CIA's Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in Tehran to direct it.
The shah was a problem from the start. The plan called for him to stand fast as the CIA stirred up popular unrest and then, as the country lurched toward chaos, to issue royal decrees dismissing Dr. Mosaddeq and appointing General Zahedi prime minister.
The agency sought to "produce such pressure on the shah that it would be easier for him to sign the papers required of him than it would be to refuse," the secret history states. Officials turned to his sister for help.
On July 11, President Eisenhower finally signed off on the plan. At about the same time, CIA and British intelligence officers visited Princess Ashraf on the French Riviera and persuaded her to return to Iran and tell her brother to follow the script.
The return of the unpopular princess unleashed a storm of protest from pro-Mosaddeq forces. The shah was furious that she had come back without his approval and refused at first to see her. But a palace staff member - another British agent, according to the secret history - gained Ashraf access on July 29.
The history does not reveal what the siblings said to each other. But the princess gave her brother the news that CIA officials had enlisted Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf in the coup campaign. General Schwarzkopf, the father of the Persian Gulf war commander, had befriended the shah a decade earlier while leading the United States military mission to Iran, and he told the agency "he was sure he could get the required cooperation."
The British, too, sought to sway the shah and assure him their agents spoke for London. A British agent, Asadollah Rashidian, approached him in late July and invited him to select a phrase that would then be broadcast at prearranged times on the BBC's Persian-language program - as proof that Mr. Rashidian spoke for the British.
The exercise did not seem to have much effect. The shah told Mr. Rashidian on July 30 and 31 that he had heard the broadcast, but "requested time to assess the situation." In early August, the CIA stepped up the pressure. Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with "savage punishment if they opposed Mosaddeq," seeking to stir anti-Communist sentiment in the religious community.
In addition, the secret history says, the house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by CIA agents posing as Communists. It does not say whether anyone was hurt in this attack.
The agency was also intensifying its propaganda campaign. A leading newspaper owner was granted a personal loan of about $45,000, "in the belief that this would make his organ amenable to our purposes."
But the shah remained intransigent. In an Aug. 1 meeting with General Schwarzkopf, he refused to sign the CIA-written decrees firing Mr. Mosaddeq and appointing General Zahedi. He said he doubted that the army would support him in a showdown.
During the meeting, the document says, the shah was so convinced that the palace was bugged that he "led the general into the grand ballroom, pulled a small table to its exact center" and got onto it to talk, insisting that the general do the same.
"This meeting was to be followed by a series of additional ones, some between Roosevelt and the shah and some between Rashidian and the shah, in which relentless pressure was exerted in frustrating attempts to overcome an entrenched attitude of vacillation and indecision," the history states.
Dr. Mosaddeq had by now figured out that there was a plot against him. He moved to consolidate power by calling for a national referendum to dissolve Parliament. The results of the Aug. 4 referendum were clearly rigged in his favor; foreign media reported the same day that the prime minister had won 99.9 percent of the vote. This only helped the plotters, providing "an issue on which Mosaddeq could be relentlessly attacked" by the agency-backed opposition press.
"On Aug. 3rd," the secret history says, "Roosevelt had a long and inconclusive session with the shah," who "stated that he was not an adventurer, and hence, could not take the chances of one.
"Roosevelt pointed out that there was no other way by which the government could be changed and the test was now between Mosaddeq and his force and the shah and the army, which was still with him, but which would soon slip away."
Mr. Roosevelt told the shah "that failure to act could lead only to a Communist Iran or to a second Korea."
Still haunted by doubts, the shah asked Mr. Roosevelt if President Eisenhower could tell him what to do.
"By complete coincidence and great good fortune," the secret history says, "the president, while addressing the governors' convention in Seattle on 4 August, deviated from his script to state by implication that the United States would not sit by idly and see Iran fall behind the Iron Curtain."
By Aug. 10, the shah had finally agreed to see General Zahedi and a few army officers involved in the plot, but still refused to sign the decrees. The CIA then sent Mr. Rashidian to say Mr. Roosevelt "would leave in complete disgust unless the shah took action within a few days."
The shah finally signed the decrees on Aug. 13. Word that he would support an army-led coup spread rapidly among the army officers backing General Zahedi.
Protestors tore down a statue of Riza Shah, the father of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
First Few Days Look Disastrous
The coup began on the night of Aug. 15 and was immediately compromised by a talkative Iranian Army officer whose remarks were relayed to Mr. Mosaddeq.
The operation, the secret history says, "still might have succeeded in spite of this advance warning had not most of the participants proved to be inept or lacking in decision at the critical juncture."
Dr. Mosaddeq's chief of staff, Gen. Taghi Riahi, learned of the plot hours before it was to begin and sent his deputy to the barracks of the Imperial Guard.
The deputy was arrested there, according to the history, just as pro-shah soldiers were fanning out across the city arresting other senior officials. Telephone lines between army and government offices were cut, and the telephone exchange was occupied.
But phones inexplicably continued to function, which gave Dr. Mosaddeq's forces a key advantage. General Riahi also eluded the pro-shah units, rallying commanders to the prime minister's side.
Pro-shah soldiers sent to arrest Dr. Mosaddeq at his home were instead captured. The top military officer working with General Zahedi fled when he saw tanks and loyal government soldiers at army headquarters.
The next morning, the history states, the Tehran radio announced that a coup against the government had failed, and Dr. Mosaddeq scrambled to strengthen his hold on the army and key installations. CIA officers inside the embassy were flying blind; the history says they had "no way of knowing what was happening."
Mr. Roosevelt left the embassy and tracked down General Zahedi, who was in hiding north of Tehran. Surprisingly, the general was not ready to abandon the operation. The coup, the two men agreed, could still work, provided they could persuade the public that General Zahedi was the lawful prime minister.
To accomplish this, the history discloses, the coup plotters had to get out the news that the shah had signed the two decrees.
The CIA station in Tehran sent a message to The Associated Press in New York, asserting that "unofficial reports are current to the effect that leaders of the plot are armed with two decrees of the shah, one dismissing Mosaddeq and the other appointing General Zahedi to replace him."
The CIA and its agents also arranged for the decrees to be mentioned in some Tehran papers, the history says.
The propaganda initiative quickly bogged down. Many of the CIA's Iranian agents were under arrest or on the run. That afternoon, agency operatives prepared a statement from General Zahedi that they hoped to distribute publicly. But they could not find a printing press that was not being watched by forces loyal to the prime minister.
On Aug. 16, prospects of reviving the operation were dealt a seemingly a fatal blow when it was learned that the shah had bolted to Baghdad. CIA headquarters cabled Tehran urging Mr. Roosevelt, the station chief, to leave immediately.
He did not agree, insisting that there was still "a slight remaining chance of success," if the shah would broadcast an address on the Baghdad radio and General Zahedi took an aggressive stand.
The first sign that the tide might turn came with reports that Iranian soldiers had broken up Tudeh, or Communist, groups, beating them and making them chant their support for the shah. "The station continued to feel that the project was not quite dead," the secret history recounts.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mosaddeq had overreached, playing into the CIA's hands by dissolving Parliament after the coup.
On the morning of Aug. 17 the shah finally announced from Baghdad that he had signed the decrees - though he had by now delayed so long that plotters feared it was too late. At this critical point Dr. Mosaddeq let down his guard. Lulled by the shah's departure and the arrests of some officers involved in the coup, the government recalled most troops it had stationed around the city, believing that the danger had passed.
The Shah and Queen Soraya arrived in Rome on Aug. 18, 1953
That night the CIA arranged for General Zahedi and other key Iranian agents and army officers to be smuggled into the embassy compound "in the bottom of cars and in closed jeeps" for a "council of war."
They agreed to start a counterattack on Aug. 19, sending a leading cleric from Tehran to the holy city of Qom to try to orchestrate a call for a holy war against Communism. (The religious forces they were trying to manipulate would years later call the United States "the Great Satan.")
Using travel papers forged by the CIA, key army officers went to outlying army garrisons to persuade commanders to join the coup.
Once again, the shah disappointed the CIA He left Baghdad for Rome the next day, apparently an exile. Newspapers supporting Dr. Mosaddeq reported that the Pahlavi dynasty had come to an end, and a statement from the Communist Party's central committee attributed the coup attempt to "Anglo-American intrigue." Demonstrators ripped down imperial statues -- as they would again 26 years later during the Islamic revolution.
The CIA station cabled headquarters for advice on whether to "continue with TP-AJAX or withdraw." "Headquarters spent a day featured by depression and despair," the history states, adding, "The message sent to Tehran on the night of Aug. 18 said that 'the operation has been tried and failed,' and that 'in the absence of strong recommendations to the contrary operations against Mosaddeq should be discontinued'."