Regime Changes In Iran, Iraq Hurt American Interests In Longer Run

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s allegations that the US backed an attempt to oust him have put a spotlight on Washington’s involvements in regime changes

Mohammed Mossadegh has been described as the region’s ‘first liberal leader’ and a rationalist. Picture courtesy

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

London-based Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company (AIPC) had a monopoly over Iran’s oil until Mohammed Mossadegh kept his poll promise and nationalised the firm to invest its profits for the welfare of the poor after sweeping to power in 1951. Britain reacted with fury. It imposed economic sanctions and a naval embargo besides forcing British technicians to leave Iran. The retaliatory measures paralysed the Iranian petroleum industry and blocked its exports as Britain claimed the Iranian oil to be its property. An attempt to overthrow French-educated Mosaddegh was pre-empted by shutting the British embassy and deporting British undercover agents plotting a coup posing as diplomats.

President Dwight Eisenhower’s move to end the American non-interventionist policy in 1952 in view of the Iranian leader’s defiance sealed Mossadegh’s fate. Eisenhower saw Mossadegh’s nationalisation project as a threat to multinational enterprises. Kermit Roosevelt, an agent of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was accordingly rushed to Tehran. He would accomplish the job of overthrowing Mossadegh in three weeks in August 1953. Mossadegh, a democratically-elected leader, was banished and would spend the rest of his life under house arrest in his native village.

Seven decades on, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan effectively used an alleged US-backed attempt to oust him to stall a non-confidence motion against him this month. The move helped him recommend the dissolution of the national assembly and call fresh elections to prevent his opponents from taking power to roll back provisions such as the use of electronic voting machines and online balloting rights to overseas Pakistanis, who are mostly seen as Khan’s supporters.

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Khan has called the alleged move to oust him a blatant American interference in domestic politics even as Washington has denied any role in seeking to remove Khan from power. Allegations of American interference have been repeatedly made in Pakistan, where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed on trumped-up charges after secretary of state Henry Kissinger is said to have warned the US would make a ‘horrible example’ of the Pakistani leader over his refusal to give up Pakistan’s nuclear programme in 1976. The execution followed a military coup and a campaign to remove Bhutto from power as Khan has faced in recent months. Khan has cited a series of meetings of opposition leaders with American diplomats to back his allegations.

Khan’s accusations of American attempt to oust him have resonated in the backdrop of the US-backed regime changes including in neighbouring Iran, where AIPC was Britain’s most profitable company in the 1950s. AIPC managed the monopoly over Iranian oil through a deal with Iran’s monarchy. The oil propelled high living standards in Britain while Iranians lived in poverty despite the abundance of black gold in their country. American author-journalist Stephen Kinzer told Democracy Now in 2008 that Britain had no oil or colonies with petroleum and every factory in England, car, truck, taxi was running on oil from Iran. He added oil from Iran 100% fuelled the Royal Navy as it projected British power globally and that AIPC ‘would not give in one inch.’

Mossadegh, who has been described as the region’s ‘first liberal leader’ and a rationalist who hated obscurantism, believed in secularism and pluralism. But his ideals counted for nothing as his idea of national sovereignty clashed with the West’s economic interests. The Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who took power after the coup, would become the face of American manipulations. The US rewarded him handsomely and gifted him a nuclear programme through a civil nuke cooperation pact in 1957. The CIA and Israeli spy agency Mossad trained the Shah’s secret police force, which sustained his repression and would eventually prepare the ground for Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution. The revolution led to the creation of an adversarial republic to the US in 1979 and a system of governance that allows clerics absolute political and legal authority. The system is a far cry from Mossadegh’s idea of constitutionalism and civic nationalism. A lawyer who studied in France and Switzerland, Mossadegh symbolised secular nationalism in Iran.

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A 444-day seizure of the American embassy and captivity of diplomats in Tehran followed the revolution. Kinzer has argued the crisis was not a result of ‘nihilistic rage’ but to prevent a repeat of the 1953 coup, which CIA agents operating from the embassy carried out. The US retaliated by sanctioning Iran. It backed Iraqi dictator Saddam’s invasion of Iran while the revolution also prompted the Soviets to invade Afghanistan to prevent its export to its backyard. The US resorted to the perversion of jihad to defeat Soviets, which would imperil world peace by leading to the creation of groups such as al-Qaeda.

Iran, meanwhile, fended off Saddam’s invasion for eight years until Tehran was forced to agree to a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in September 1988. The truce came after Americans brought down an Iranian civilian aircraft. The downing signalled to Iran the US was now openly siding with Iraq in the 20th century’s longest war, which is estimated to have left around a million dead. Saddam’s use of chemical weapons also forced Iran to accept the truce. Iran also survived American sanctions, which have left around 2,000 people dead in over 200 accidents blamed on the curbs that prevented Tehran from buying aircraft parts.

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Iran has overcome odds and emerged as one of the world’s top cement, steel, and automobile manufacturers on the back of the Middle East’s most extensive industrial base. In a The Diplomat piece in 2015, Richard Javad Heydarian said Iran is among the top countries in nanotechnology and stem-cell research as well as ranked as the world’s 17th biggest producer of scientific papers in 2012, ahead of Turkey and Israel. Maryam Mirzakhani, the winner of the first woman Fields Medal recognising outstanding mathematical achievement, is among the top scientists Iran has produced. Iran has also managed to maintain a military strength that poses the most potent threat to Israel, whose survival and security has been of central importance to the US in the Middle East.

The US invasion of Iraq for another regime change in 2003 by ousting Saddam on the pretext of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, too, benefitted Iran. The war and the American occupation of Iraq that followed, directly and indirectly, claimed about half a million Iraqi lives from 2003 to 2011. The US left Iraq in 2011 after the loss of 4,500 American lives and $1 trillion to economy. It ended up benefitting Iran by helping Tehran create a corridor of influence up to the Mediterranean. Iran used the corridor to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria and support Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hoshyar Zebari ouster in 2016 as Iraq’s finance minister because Iran distrusted him for his links to the US highlighted the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq. From cosmetics to eggs, milk, yogurt, and chicken, Iraq is dependent on Iran for virtually everything, which helps Tehran exercise an influence it would not have managed without the American intervention to change Saddam’s regime in 2003.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan

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