Behind the 1953 Coup in Iran: Thugs, Turncoats, Soldiers, and Spooks by Ali Rahnema

On this 63rd anniversay of the 1953 coup d'etat in Iran, about two days ago I leisurely started reading this book and just finished it. Ali Rahnema's study utilizes an extensive trove of declassified US and British government documents about the event, and so as a study it is one of its kind and pretty much surpasses anything written about the subject thus far. Rahnema offers a comprehensive background to the event and focuses on both the first and second coups: the first one on August 15-16 1953, which failed (and witnessed the immediate flight of the Shah from the country), and the second that occurred on August 19th, that succeeded.

Contextualizing the event and the major actors behind it, Rahnema then gives us a blow by blow coverage of these four momentous days in modern Iranian history, telescoping on August 19th from several vantage points: the perspective of the internal coup plotters; the paid rent-a-crowd riff-raff of south Tehran who rioted against Mossadegh's government as a cover for the actions of the military putschists; the cosa nostra handlers and organizers of this riff-raff; the foreign organizers and spooks involved; the agent provocateurs pretending to be Tudeh communists; the Tudeh itself; the supporters and entourage of Mossadegh and, of course, Mossadegh himself; Fazlollah Zahedi and his entourage;  those clergy involved and their supporters; the Shah and his entourage; the military commanders and soldiers on the ground carrying out the coup; the US and British governments, etc.

I learned much from reading this study, and Rahnema cleared up several huge gaps around the '53 coup which many scholars had uncritically repeated in much of the literature. For example, the previous assumption regarding Grand Ayatollah Borujerdi's (ra) support of the '53 coup is no longer a tenable one. Borujerdi not only did not support the anti-Mossadegh activities of two of his junior colleagues -- viz. ayatollahs Behbehani and Kashani -- but actually supported Mossadegh to the very end. He also did not send a congratulatory telegram to Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi in Rome when Mossadegh was toppled, as previously held, but waited four days after the Shah had arrived back in Iran (i.e. after August 22nd) to send such a telegram; and the telegram to Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi by Borujerdi was hardly a friendly one, both worded and sounding more like how Mirza-ye Shirazi once addressed Nasiruddin Shah about rescinding the Tobacco concession during the early 1890s.

Rahnema also discusses the questions lingering over the constitutional legality of Mossadegh's dismissal by the Shah; whether the letters signed by him dismissing Mossadegh were even genuine; and so whether or not Mossadegh was legally obliged to hand over power to Fazlollah Zahedi when questions lingered over the veracity of the letters purportedly signed by the Shah dismissing him as PM.

The chronology put at the beginning of the book is perhaps the most extensive and accurate chronology of the August 1953 coup d'etat published in any study. Rahnema also recreates accurate maps of the Tehran of August 1953 showing how events would have unfolded.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, and in several places it practically read like a spy novel.

5 stars!

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