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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 8    Issue 9   16-30 September 2013

Professor A. R. MOMIN

CIA admits role in 1953 Iran coup

By and large, the role of Western nations in the Muslim world, as also in large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, has been marked by hegemonic expansionism and interference, reckless exploitation of natural and human resources, deception, intrigue and conspiracy, involvement in engineering coups and “regime change” through fraudulent means and installation of puppet regimes, and collusion with self-seeking and authoritarian rulers. The disastrous legacy of the colonization of Muslim lands, the European conspiracy to dismember the Ottoman Empire, the creation of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians and the involvement of American and British intelligence agencies in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 provide glaring examples of the calamitous role of Western nations in the Muslim world. In recent times, this sordid story has been replayed in the American and European backing of autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US-led coalition forces, in the involvement of Western powers in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, and in the US complicity in the military coup that led to the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammad Morsi.

The coup of 1953

Dr Mohammad Mosaddeq (or Mossadegh) was an expert on law and constitution, a prominent parliamentarian, a staunch nationalist and an able administrator. He was head of the National Front Party and was democratically elected as Iran’s prime minister in 1951 amid political uncertainty and chaos. Shortly after assuming office, Mosaddeq introduced a range of political, economic and social reforms, including social security and agrarian reforms. His most important decision was the nationalization of Iran’s oil industry, which has been under the control of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) – later renamed British Petroleum or BP -- since 1913. AIOC, which provided cheap oil to Britain and garnered the bulk of the revenues from oil exports, was widely perceived by the Iranian people as a tool of British imperialism. The decision to nationalize Iran’s oil industry was ratified by an overwhelming majority of members of the Iranian parliament.

The British government was immensely incensed by Mosaddeq’s drastic decision because it meant the loss of a most valuable foreign asset and easy source of cheap oil for the country. Britain considered Mosaddeq a serious threat to its strategic and economic interests and therefore launched an all-out offensive against the Mosaddeq government and called for the boycott of Iranian oil.

The American CIA and the British intelligence agency M16 planned and orchestrated a military coup to overthrow the Mosaddeq government. The plot – codenamed “TPAJAX” –was approved by the British prime minister Winston Churchill and the US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The CIA and the British intelligence agency launched the plot by unleashing massive anti-Mosaddeq propaganda, bribing members of the Iranian parliament and high-ranking army officials, funding public protests and rallies and fomenting riots and mayhem with a view to discredit the government. An amount of $1 million was allocated for the execution of the plot. The CIA planted fabricated stories against Mosaddeq in the media in Iran and the United States. Dreaded Iranian ruffians and mobsters were hired by the CIA to stage pro-Shah protests and to create a situation of unrest and turmoil. The agency also enlisted the support of Reza Shah Pahlavi and urged him to sack Mosaddqeq as prime minister and to nominate the CIA’s and M16’s hand-picked choice, General Fazlollah Zahedi. The king signed the decrees and fled to Rome. Many of Mosaddeq’s supporters were imprisoned and some were executed. More than 800 people were killed in the army crackdown. Mosaddeq’s house was ransacked and destroyed and he was charged with treason and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Following the overthrow of the Mosaddeq government, General Fazlollah Zahedi became prime minister. His government soon signed an agreement with Western oil companies to the effect that the flow of Iranian oil to world markets, especially to Britain and the United States, would soon be restored. In return, the US gave $5 million to the new government. The shah returned from Rome and reinstalled as king with the backing of the US and Britain and began his rule as an absolute autocrat until he was overthrown in the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The involvement of the CIA and the British intelligence agency in the coup has long been pubic knowledge and every school child in Iran knows about, but the CIA and the British government have always denied their role. At least two US presidents – Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – have acknowledged the complicity of the US in the coup in the recent past. Soon after his inauguration as US president, Obama acknowledged, in his much-trumpeted speech in Cairo in 2009, the role of the US in the coup, saying, “In the middle of the Cold War, the US played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, also admitted the role of the CIA in the coup in 2000. In 2000, The New York Times published extracts from a leaked CIA document that suggested the involvement of the CIA in the coup.

On August 19, 2013, the independent National Security Archive Research Institute at George Washington University, Washington, DC, published declassified documents, obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act, which explicitly demonstrate the involvement of the CIA in the coup. The CIA’s confession of its involvement in the coup is revealed in an excerpt from an internal CIA report titled “The Battle for Iran” written by an in-house historian in the mid-1970s, which says: “The military coup that overthrew Mosadeg (sic) in his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.” The CIA documents include a draft internal history of the coup titled “Campaign to install a pro-Western government in Iran,” which defines the objective of the campaign as the fall of the Mosaddeq government and its replacement with “a pro-Western government under the Shah’s leadership with Zahedi as its prime minister”.

The coup was predominantly a British operation, motivated by geopolitical and economic considerations, and was jointly carried out by the British and American intelligence agencies. Washington decided to join the plot as it would provide easy access to cheap oil and would draw Iran to its orbit of influence. Secret British documents show that senior UK officials in the 1970s tried to dissuade Washington from releasing documents relating to the coup because that would be “very embarrassing” to the UK. Reacting to the publication of the secret documents by the National Security Archive Research Institute in August, the UK Foreign Office said it could neither confirm nor deny Britain’s involvement in the coup. This provides just another instance of imperialist deviousness and trickiness, which nonetheless amounts to a tacit admission of guilt. It reminds one of Israel’s calculated and deliberately ambiguous declaration about its possession of nuclear weapons, which says that it neither confirms nor denies it. The whole world knows that Israel possesses a substantial stock of nuclear weapons. Jimmy Carter, former US president, stated in May 2008 that Israel had 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

The role of the British intelligence agency in the 1953 coup is of a piece with British machinations in Iran that go back to the early decades of the 19th century. Under the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan, put together by the British diplomat Sir Gore Ouseley, Iran was forced to concede a part of its territory to Russia. In the 1920s, when Iran was under British control, General Edmund Ironside played a crucial role in enthroning Reza Shah as king.

The Iranian-Armenian historian Ervand Abrahamian, author of The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern US-Iranian Relations, said in a recent interview that the coup was designed "to get rid of a nationalist figure who insisted that oil should be nationalised". Abrahamian argues that, unlike other nationalist leaders, including Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mosaddeq epitomised a unique "anti-colonial" figure who was also committed to democratic values and human rights.

Some analysts argue that Mosaddeq failed to compromise with the West and the coup took place against the backdrop of fears about Iran coming under the communist umbrella. "My study of the documents proves to me that there was never really a fair compromise offered to Mosaddeq, what they wanted Mosaddeq to do was to give up oil nationalisation and if he'd given that of course then the national movement would have been meaningless," Abrahamian says.

The tragic legacy of the coup continues to cast a long and sinister shadow over Iran-US relations.

Indictment of Dutch state for Srebrenica massacre

The disintegration of Yugoslavia began in 1991. Slovenia and Croatia were the first to break away from the federation. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 15 October 1991, and was formally recognized by the European Union and the United States in April 1992. The Bosnian Serbs, however, were extremely unhappy with the declaration of independence and were determined to remain with Yugoslavia. In fact their desire was to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a part of Greater Serbia. The declaration of independence was followed by a fierce struggle for territorial control among the three major groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina: the Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks, who constituted about 43% of the population, the Bosnian Serbs, the followers of Orthodox Christianity who made up about 31% of the population, and the Catholic Croats who constituted 17% of the population. The Bosnian Serbs, aided and abetted by Serbia and the Yugoslav army, took control of nearly 70% of the territory. By 1993 the Bosnian Muslim government was besieged in the capital Sarajevo.

The civil war that engulfed Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 involved large-scale killing of Bosnian Muslims, forced deportations, torture in concentration camps and mass rape of Muslim women by Serb soldiers. More than 296 Bosnian Muslim villages were burned down or destroyed by the Serb forces. Houses and apartments belonging to Muslims were systematically ransacked and burned down. Civilians were attacked, tortured and killed. The Bosnian Serbs sought to create ethnically pure areas with no presence of Muslims. Systematic ethnic cleansing involved forced expulsion and killing of Muslims and destruction of their homes as well as mosques, cemeteries, madrasas and Sufi hospices. Young Muslim women and girls were kept in detention centres under appalling conditions, where they were humiliated, tortured and repeatedly raped by Serb soldiers.

The estimates of the number of victims during the Bosnian war include around 100,000-110,000 killed and 1.8 million displaced. Most of the victims (66%) were Bosnian Muslims, followed by Serbs (25%) and Croats (8%). More than 83% of civilian victims were Muslim. Some 30% of Muslim civilian victims were women and children. The estimates of Muslim women raped by Serb soldiers range between 20,000 and 50,000. According to the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague, the crimes committed during the Bosnian war of 1992-95 amounted to crimes against humanity. The war crimes, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95 had the active support and involvement of the Bosnian Serb Army, paramilitary forces and police. Furthermore, they had the active connivance of the Orthodox church, media and civil society. Radovan Karadzic was blessed by an Orthodox priest on the eve of the Bosnian war in March 1992. Significantly, Russia secretly provided heavy weapons to the Bosnian Serbs.

The horrifying atrocities committed on Bosnian Muslims were masterminded by Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia, and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Milosevic was brought before the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia for trial. He died in 2006 while the trial was underway. On 13 October 1991 Karadzic had declared: “In just a couple of days, Sarajevo will be gone and there will be five hundred thousand dead, and in one month Muslims will be annihilated in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Karadzic was indicted by the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity. For 13 years Karadzic was at large, secretly protected by the powerful networks of former and current members of the Serbian security forces. He disguised himself as a practitioner of alternative medicine in a quiet corner of Belgrade. He was finally arrested by the Serb forces on 21 July 2008 and brought to The Hague to face trial. The charges against Karadzic include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, orchestrating the shelling of Sarajevo and using 284 UN peacekeepers as human shields.

The Srebrenica Massacre

In April 1993 the United Nations declared Srebrenica a ‘safe area’ under UN protection, with a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers, Dutchbat. In July 1995, Mladic visited Potocari, a village in Srebrenica, where more than 28,000 Bosnian Muslims had taken refuge with the United Nations Dutch peacekeeping force. Riding a horse, he looked closely at the faces of men and boys in the crowd and exclaimed with glee, “There are so many! It is going to be a mezze (feast). There will be blood up to your knees.”

In the next few days, from 13th to 19th July, the Bosnian Serb army separated the men and boys from the crowd, loaded them onto buses and trucks, took them to deserted spots and shot them in cold blood. Intercepted radio transmissions indicate that Mladic was present at most of these executions. In many cases the victims were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs. The dead bodies were dumped in freshly dug graves. In some cases, earth-moving equipment was used to remove the dead and to dump them in mass graves.

According to the Bosnian Federal Commission of Missing Persons, 8,373 Bosnian Muslims, including 500 young boys under 18 years, were killed at Srebrenica. The worst massacre in Europe after World War II took place under the noses of the Dutch peacekeepers. In fact, just two days before the massacre, Mladic entertained General Bernard Janvier, Commander of the UN Protection Force, to a feast of suckling lamb. As the Serb army advanced towards Srebrenica, the Dutch peacekeepers, sensing grave danger to the Bosnian refugees, sent repeated requests to the UN officials to allow NATO warplanes to strike at the advancing Serb army, but the requests went unheeded. The Serbs took Srebrenica without a fight.

In a landmark 2004 ruling, Theordor Meron, the American judge who presided over the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia at The Hague, observed: “By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica….They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”

The United Nations, especially the Dutch peacekeeping force stationed at Srebrenica, must shoulder a large share of responsibility and blame for their failure to prevent the massacre. In November 1999 the UN released a highly self-critical report on its performance during the Srebrenica genocide, stating, “Through error, misjudgement and the inability to recognize the scope of evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.” Kofi Annan, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, said that the United Nations’ failure to prevent the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica would “haunt our history for ever.”

As of June 2011, the bodies of 6,594 victims of the Srebrenica massacre have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves. Of these, 4,524 bodies have been buried at the Potocari cemetery at Srebrenica. Mass graves of the victims of the Bosnian war are still being discovered. In July 2013 a mass funeral of 409 newly-identified victims of the massacre was held in Potocari. Thousands of people reported missing during and after the war are still untraceable.

In 1996 the Dutch government commissioned The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation to prepare a report on the role of the Dutch peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica. The institute conducted more than 900 interviews and collected hundreds of testimonies over a period of six years and submitted its report in April 2002. Hans Blom, director of the institute, stated in the report: “The events that occurred cannot be described as an act of vengeance that got out of hand. Although they occurred rapidly and in an improvised way, the scale and course of the murders clearly indicate that they were organized. Places of executions were sought, transport was arranged and troops were ordered to carry our executions.” The report also said that the conduct of Dutchbat was not beyond reproach. On 16 April 2002 the Dutch government resigned en masse, owning moral responsibility for the failure of Dutchbat to prevent the massacre.

Dutch Supreme Court’s Indictment of the Netherlands

When the Bosnian Serb forces stormed and overran a United Nations compound where the Dutch peacekeeping forces were stationed, Dutch officials ordered three Bosnian Muslim men, who were working for the Dutch forces and were among the thousands of Bosnian Muslims who had taken shelter in the UN compound, to leave the compound. As soon as they left the compound, they were shot down by Serbian troops.

In 2011 a Dutch appeals court ruled that the Dutch peacekeeping forces were accountable for the killing of the three Muslim men and that they should not have handed them over to the Serb forces. On September 6, 2013, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld the earlier ruling of the appeals court and said that the Netherlands was indeed liable for the killing of the three Muslim men. Judge Floris Bakels of the Netherlands Supreme Court said it would be "unacceptable" for countries not to be able to hold their peacekeepers to account. The ruling marks an indictment of the Dutch peacekeeping forces as well as the Dutch state and paves the way for compensation to the families of the victims. Commenting on the ruling, Jezerca Tigani, an official of Amnesty International said, “Nearly two decades on from Srebrenica, this Dutch case marks the first time an individual government has been held to account for the conduct of its peacekeeping forces under a UN mandate.”

Growing popularity of Islam among US Hispanics

The United States is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse countries in the world. The US census officially recognizes six distinctive ethnic and racial categories, including whites, American Indians, African Americans, Native Hawaiians and people of mixed descent. The whites constitute the majority of the US population (63%), followed by Hispanics or Latino Americans (15%) and African Americans (13%). The rest include Asian Americans, people of indigenous ancestry and those of mixed descent.

The population of Latino Americans, who have migrated from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America at different points of time, is estimated to be around 50 million, making them the country’s largest minority group. The Hispanics are of mixed ethnicity, including whites (62.4%), blacks (4%) and those of mixed descent. The majority of Hispanics (70%) are Catholic and about 23% are members of Protestant and other churches, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The population of Catholic Hispanics has been shrinking over the past few years. It is estimated that as a result of growing disenchantment with Catholic doctrines and ritual practices and the church establishment, up to 100,000 Hispanic Catholics are leaving the fold of the Catholic church every year.

Many Latinos, especially women, have embraced Islam in recent years. According to conservative estimates, the number of Latino converts in the US is between 100,000 and 200,000. A 2006 estimate by the American Muslim Council suggested that the number of Hispanic Muslims in the US was around 200,000. A 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 2.75 million Muslims were living in the United States, of which about 4% identified themselves as Latino Muslims. Thousands of Latinos have been drawn to Islam because they found a striking convergence and harmony between some of the Latino traditions and Islamic values and principles, including simplicity, communitarian unity and solidarity, family cohesion, supportive networks, an emphasis on spiritual and moral values and respect for the rights of the poor. They are impressed by the Islamic ideals of equality and brotherhood and the Islamic belief that there is a direct and personal relationship between God and man, unhampered by any mediating clergy. Female Latino converts find a refreshing and reassuring sense of dignity and security in the fold of Islam and are impressed by the recognition of gender equality in Islamic tradition.

Latino converts are warmly welcomed and accepted by the wider American Muslim community, and this is one of the significant reasons for the growing popularity of Islam among the Hispanics. In many areas, Latino women who have embraced Islam have formed communitarian and supportive networks, which reinforces their shared identity and solidarity and acts as a bulwark against mistrust and hostility from the wider society.

Conversion to Islam provides the Latinos with a new sense of identity. However, this new identity does not lead to the complete disavowal or abandonment of the traditional Latino identity. Rather, it is based on a synthesis between Islamic values and selectively appropriated elements of traditional Latino culture. Thus, traditional Latino food, the Spanish language, family values and music are supplemented with devotion to the new faith, modest dress, Islamic cultural symbols such as the headscarf and the beard and prayers.

Like Muslims in general, Latino Muslims in the US have to bear the brunt of Islamophobia, which is particularly manifested in the projection of negative and demeaning stereotypes about the community in the media and in everyday life. However, they are not disheartened or overly distressed about the prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and hostility and remain steadfast in their commitment to their chosen faith.

A new mosque in Copenhagen

Muslims constitute the second-largest religious community in Denmark. The population of Muslims in the country is estimated to be around 270,000, which is about 4.8 per cent of Denmark’s population of 5.6 million. An estimated 2,800 Danes have converted to Islam. Muslims in Denmark have diverse national backgrounds, including Turks, Moroccans, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Bosnians and Somalis. Some cemeteries in the country have separate sections for Muslims. A separate Muslim cemetery was opened in Brondby near Copenhagen in 2006. There are about 20 Islamic schools in the country. Many hospitals, schools and kindergartens serve halal food.

Denmark is the only country in Europe that does not have a proper, large mosque. Over the past several years, Muslims have been making efforts to construct a proper mosque, but their efforts failed or were thwarted under the pressure of far-right groups. Now the country’s first large mosque, with a dome and a minaret, is nearing completion. The mosque complex, which is spread over an area of 6,800 square metres, is likely to be completed by the end of this year. A 20-metre minaret has already been installed. The architecture of the mosque represents a synthesis of Scandinavian and Islamic patterns and designs. Qatar’s royal family has contributed 150 million kroner for the construction of the mosque. The mosque complex will have an Islamic school, a café and childcare facilities.

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