People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 20, 2013




CIA Role in Iran and Region Exposed


Yohannan Chemarapally


NEWLY declassified CIA documents have now conclusively revealed the role of American and British secret services in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran sixty years ago. Another set of unconnected declassified CIA documents released around the same time have also revealed that the CIA had clandestinely operated American U-2 surveillance flights from an Indian base in Odisha. Permission to do so was given by none other than the redoubtable prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, after his meeting with the American president, John F Kennedy. Nehru was reeling from the debacle of the 1962 war with China and, according to declassified documents accessed some years ago, had even sent two desperate letters to the American president asking for military help in the wake of the 1962 war.




The revelations about the secret ties between the Indian and American Intelligence agencies since the early sixties did not get much attraction in the international media. The bigger story was about the CIA documents that focussed on its role in ensuring regime change in Iran. The events in 1953 dramatically changed the course of history in West Asia. From the very beginning it was evident that the CIA was in the forefront of the destabilisation programme that was launched against Iran in the early fifties after the government under Muhammad Mossadegh tried to gain full control over its energy resources. Mossadegh was overthrown in a military coup on August 19, 1953 and the Shah of Iran, who became the West’s poster boy in the region, went on to rule till 1979. A popular revolt against the Shah led to his ouster and the Islamic Republic took the place of the despised monarchy. Mossadegh was a secular nationalist having strong ties with the Iranian "Tudeh,” a Left party


According to the declassified documents, the western media at the CIA’s instigation demonised Mossadegh as an “unstable, intemperate and unreliable” ally of the West in the Cold War. The internal CIA documents, however, tell the real story. “The target of this policy of operation, Muhammad Mossadeq (sic) was neither a mad man or an emotional bundle of senility as he was so often pictured in the foreign press; however he had become so committed to the ideals of nationalism that he did things that could not have conceivably helped his people even in the best and most altruistic of worlds. In refusing to bargain — except on his own uncompromising terms — with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, he was in fact defying the professional politicians of the British government. These politicians believed with good reason that cheap oil for Britain and high profits for the company were vital to their national interests, according to an excerpt from the recently released declassified documents. The rapacious western attitude towards the region has evidently still not changed. The “blood for oil” wars staged to ‘secure’ Kuwait in the 1990s and Iraq in 2003 are illustrations.


The CIA report underlines the fact that the much vaunted western media was putty in its hands. The report said that most of the media glossed over the key fact that the coup that overthrew Mossadegh “was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.” This is the first time that the CIA has openly admitted to using propaganda, bribing officials and organising anti-government demonstrations to undermine a legitimately elected government.




Washington has been trying similar tactics in other countries in the region before it succeeded in bringing about regime change in Iran. Syria is an illustration. The US had a role in ensuring Syria’s independence in 1946. Washington had thwarted France’s move to reclaim its colonial legacy in the region after World War 2. But relations between Damascus and Washington started deteriorating almost immediately after the Syrian parliament vetoed the passage rights for the Arabian American Oil Company’s pipeline through its territory. The Americans had wanted oil from Saudi Arabia to be transported to the Mediterranean through Syria. Syrian lawmakers were angry with Washington for its prompt recognition of the state of Israel. The US president, Harry Truman, immediately retaliated by authorising the staging of a military coup in Syria by the CIA, the very first in the region in March 1949. The Syrian prime minister, Shukri al-Quwaitli, was overthrown by the army chief of staff, General Husni al-Zaim. Another coup followed in the same year, resulting in the assassination of General Zaim.


Civilian rule was restored in 1955 with al Quwaitli again heading the government. The Syrian nationalists had ensured that the coveted American pipeline did not materialise. They, instead, steered the country to a very close relationship with Egypt. President Gamal Nasser of Egypt had already emerged as the hero of pan-Arabism by then. The Eisenhower administration in Washington once again got busy plotting against Syria. A destabilisation plan, code named “Operation Straggle,” was prepared. The plan involved the staging of armed incidents along the border with Turkey and the arming of tribes to fight alongside right wing groups opposed to the nationalistic goals espoused by Arab socialists.


The second attempt at regime change also failed as the British, French and the Israelis, who were supposed to help in the efforts to overthrow the Syrian government, were too preoccupied by the 1957 Suez Canal crisis. However, the most important reason, as the US president Dwight Eisenhower noted in 1958, was the high level suspicion the Syrian public had exhibited towards the US and the West. “The trouble is that we have a campaign of hatred against us, not by the government but by the people,” Eisenhower is quoted as saying in the recently unclassified official papers. According to the unclassified reports there is a “consensus narrative,” that is widely held among the Syrian people, that “foreign conspiracies have sought to undermine Syria in the past.”




Documents discovered in 2004 reveal a joint CIA-M16 plan approved by the American president Dwight Eisenhower and prime minister Harold Macmillan to overthrow the Syrian government in 1957. The documents were unearthed by a British academic, Mathew Jones, who teaches international history at the University of London. The details of the plan were found in the private papers of Duncan Sandys, who had served as defence secretary under Macmillan. The plan included staging border incidents and the assassination of three key leaders. A coalition government consisting of communists and Ba’athists had come to power in Damascus overthrowing a pro-western military dictatorship. The plan had called for the setting up of a “Free Syria Committee” and the “arming of political factions with paramilitary or other actionist capabilities.” The “preferred plan” to overthrow the Syrian government at the time, was specific in its details.


“In order to facilitate the action of the liberative forces, reduce the capabilities of the Syrian regime to organise and direct its military actions, to hold losses and destruction to the minimum, and to bring about desired results in the shortest possible time, a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals. Their removal should be accomplished early n the course of the uprising and intervention and in the light of the circumstances existing at the time,” the Sandys papers revealed. The three leaders officially targeted for assassination by Washington and London were Abd al Hamid Sirraj, the head of Syrian military intelligence, Afif al Bizri, chief of the Syrian general staff and Khalid Bakhdash, the leader of the Syrian Communist Party. 


The “preferred plan” spelt out other covert actions that had to be undertaken to achieve the goal of regime change in Syria. “Once a political decision is taken to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria, CIA is prepared and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount more sabotage and ‘coup de main’ incidents within Syria working through contacts and individuals.”


The report went on to add that if the coup plotters were successful in carrying out their mission and the necessary degree of chaos and destruction achieved, then frontier incidents and border skirmishes would be staged with the help of friendly governments like neighbouring Jordan and Iraq. Syria had to be made to “appear as the sponsor of plots, sabotage and violence directed against neighbouring governments.” The blueprint for action against Syrian prepared in Washington and London called on the CIA and the SIS “to use their capabilities in both the psychological and action fields to augment tension.” The document spelt out what this meant in actual terms. The territories of Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq would be used as staging posts to mount “sabotage, national conspiracies and various strong arm activities” inside Syria.




Interestingly, the plan also called for the formation a “Free Syria Committee” along with the arming of “political factions with paramilitary and other actionable capabilities” within Syria. The CIA and MI6 would coordinate to instigate internal uprisings, focussing on the minorities like the Druze and the Kurds and stir up the Muslim Brotherhood in the rest of the country. The report conceded that the plan to replace the Communist-Ba’ath government would not be welcomed domestically in Syria and any pro-western government that would replace it “would probably need to rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power.” It is another matter that the plan hatched in Washington and London could not fructify. The Jordanian and Iraqi governments had refused to come fully on board.


In the thick of the action to overthrow the progressive government in Syria was the notorious CIA operative, Kermit Roosevelt. He was the point man in the successful move to remove the government led by Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran and reinstall the pro-western Shah back to power. The West feared that a pro-Soviet government in Syria would destabilise the neighbourhood which at the time were all under friendly regimes. The important pipeline which delivered oil from Iraq to Turkey passed only through Syria in the fifties and the sixties. It was one of the main arteries controlling the flow of oil in those days. Roosevelt, in his memoirs, had written that the influential secretary of state at the time, John Foster Dulles, was so enthused with its success in Iran that he wanted to replicate similar scenarios in other countries that had governments that the West found to be inimical to its interests. Dulles, one of the architects of the Cold War, had once described the ideology of non-alignment as an “immoral” concept.


The West is trying to implement a blueprint eerily similar to the one they had tried 60 years ago in Syria. The Americans have set up a front organisation --- the Syrian National Council (SNC) --- that purports to speak for the Syrian people. Border and terror incidents have been manipulated to put the blame on the Syrian government. American planes have moved in fighters and arms from neighbouring countries to be trained in Turkey.


In the first year of the conflict, the West did successfully implement many of the tactics they had envisaged in the 1957 plan. Many top decision makers in the government, including the Syrian defence minister, were assassinated. Tribal militias and the Muslim Brotherhood were strengthened. However, as they had envisaged in the fifties, the move to impose regime change has not been a popular one. The majority of the Syrian people, especially now after the carnage they have witnessed, seem to have rallied behind the government.