History Essay: The Politics Surrounding the Control of Oil in Iran from 1901 culminating in the 1953 Coup D’état

The Politics Surrounding the Control of Oil in Iran from 1901 culminating in the 1953 Coup D’état.

During the nineteenth century, Iran was caught up in an expansion race between Russia and Britain. Russia posed serious threats to the sovereignty of Iran and as a result, Iran signed treaties with both Britain and France to protect itself from the aggressive Russia. After wars fought with the Russians, the country ceded control of large territories that resulted in the current borders. Due to Britain’s ambition to dominate the Persian Gulf, relationships soured and the two former allies engaged in a war that saw Afghanistan gain its independence.

Towards the end of the century, the Shah promised concessional contracts to Paul Reuters, a British journalist and entrepreneur in return for favors during his visit to Europe. The deal however never materialised as it met stiff resistance in both Iran and Russia. At the start of the twentieth century, a similar deal was signed between the shah and William Knox, a deal which led to the British nationalisation of oil exploration in Iran. Fearing possible depletion of the oil reserves, William opted out of the First Exploitation Company in 1908, receiving a cash equivalent of the shares held in the company. The discovery of the deposits marked the beginning of trading a commodity that would fuel the country’s navy through two bloody wars and cause Persia more strife than it had ever experienced before (Kinzer, 15).

The revolution of 1906 sought to weaken the powers of the shah by establishing other statutory positions that would have majority of the executive powers. The efforts by the British and Russians to thwart the revolution failed when their frontman was killed in 1910 by a guerilla outfit operating in the country (Kinzer, 53).

The oil exploration company paid relatively small profits to the government, a situation that largely favoured the British. The Persians were dissatisfied with the arrangement and in 1921 plotted a successful coup to oust the Qajar Dynasty. The British government took the opportunity to front a friendly point man as the leader of the coup, a move that saw General Reza assume power (Kinzer, 77). General Reza’s government soon gained popularity due to the various policies it used to execute its agenda. The regime defeated all warlords who controlled certain portions of the country thus liberating the citizens from oppression and unlawful rule (Kinzer, 132). As a result of the effective rule, the former impoverished state begun to make a lot of changes in its systems to uplift the lives of its citizens. These changes started with the establishment of institutions such as schools and hospitals. Literacy rates shot up and oppressed groups such as women received rights they were previously denied. The general developed expansive infrastructure in the country, establishing a vast road network and the Trans-Iranian railway. To date, the former general regarded highly for these achievements and is viewed as one of the leaders who transformed Iran.

The general was however a harsh ruler who suppressed all descent and eliminated all opposition from the country (Kinzer, 139). As a result, he disregarded democratic provisions established by the revolution, eliminating and suppressing all his opponents. One politician, Mohammed Mossadegh, became a thorn in the flesh of the general. Following his jailing in 1940, Mohammed publicly decried the authoritarian rule executed by the general and pushed for nationalisation. Nationalist leaders began to emerge in the country inspired by Mossadegh and the desire for equitable distribution of national wealth.

The general was uncomfortable with the vast influence of foreign powers in the internal affairs of his country and had unsuccessfully attempted to diminish such influence. The move had succeeded to some extent but failed when he attempted to terminate the oil concession between the Iranian and British governments. Iran’s economy was still very weak and heavily reliant on imports from outside countries. Due to this, the British established a maritime blockade that prevented Iran from exporting or importing anything.

During the Second World War, the country had taken a neutral stand and the British were growing weary of this position adopted by the country. The British felt its interests in Iran were at a risk due to the neutral stand and consequently invaded the country to secure the oil fields (Kinzer, 146). The invasion resulted in the arrest and deportation of the general and the installation of his rather moderate son, Mohammed Reza, as Shah. The moderate shah restored democracy in the country, establishing a platform for the National Front to successfully infiltrate the politics of the country. The nationalists continued pushing for the nationalisation of Iran’s oil as well as reduction in long term interventions by foreigners in the country after the end of the war.

The national front won majority of the seats in the popular vote initiative and consequently placed Mohammed Mossadegh as the prime minister of the republic following the assassination of Ali Razmara. The prime minister and the ayatollah held different views regarding governance, a situation that would eventually bring the country to its knees. While the Supreme Leader wanted the formation of an Islamic state, the prime minister believed in the separation of doctrine and the republic (Kinzer, 189). The ayatollah used his influence on the masses to create political instability in the country, a move that further strained relationships between the two leaders and their followers. Mossadegh was dismissed from the post of prime minister in 1952, a move that caused widespread protests in the country resulting in his reinstatement.

Towards the end of 1951, the national assembly passed the oil nationalization bill, a bill that would see the Iranian and British governments share profits from oil equally. Revenues received by the Iranian government increased at the expense of the British. However, the bill reduced revenues received by the British, a move that greatly angered the British government.

The blockade continued its devastating effect on the lives of Iranians who grew poorer and poorer, resulting in massive protests and diminishing popularity of Mossadegh (Kinzer, 228). A failed assassination attempt on one of his cabinet members marked the turning point of Mosaadegh’s rule. He fronted dissolution of parliament motion that was successful, transferring more power to himself. The move was widely seen as a dictatorial move that resulted in further diminishing popularity for Mossadegh. The British government was now using propaganda to drum up support for its coup plot against the Iranian regime. They managed to convince the US that failure to dismantle the regime will result in Iran falling to the Soviets, a long term rival of America. Armed with these facts, the Dwight administration supported the plot and used the Central Intelligence Agency to execute the plan.

The shah sent a dismissal letter to Mossadegh, a move that was meant to initiate a coup process that from the look of things, failed in its early stages. The prime minister had the colonel arrested, an incident that caused massive protests when it came to the public domain (Kinzer, 250). Consequently, protests erupted with supporters of the different factions engaging in violent cycles of confrontations. Bloody fights resulted from confrontations of the different factions and Mossadegh refused to rally support from his supporters, preventing further fighting. Zahedi assumed control of al government installations, effectively becoming the county’s political leader.  The arrest and prosecution of Mossadegh marked the success of the coup orchestrated by the British and American governments (Kinzer, 288).

Works Cited

Kinzer, Stephen. “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.” Indianapolis: Wiley publishers, 2008. Print.