BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

BRITAIN NO LONGER A WORLD POWER TO ACT ALONE: THE NATIONALISATION OF THE ANGLO-IRANIAN OIL COMPANY’S CRISIS: AN EXAMPLE BRITAIN SHOULD HAVE LEARNT IN THE SUEZ CANAL CRISIS OF 1956

According to Sir William Strang, Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office:

While Dr. Musaddiq makes considerable appeal to certain elements in the Persian character, and for that reason finds it easy to command mob support, his Government have proved themselves no better and no less corrupt than their predecessors, so that he himself cannot be regarded as enjoying a real measure of popular support.¹

To strengthen his position against the growing opposition, in March 1953 Prime Minister Musaddiq set up a Majlis Commission ‘to work out a “reconciliation” between the Shah and his Prime Minister.’²This meant ‘the Shah was to be regarded formally as Head of the State.’³, while ultimate authority was to be transferred to the Prime Minister. Such a proposal increased the opposition to Musaddiq. The unanimity of parliamentary support which the Prime Minister had enjoyed since the election of the Majlis the previous year faded away. The Majlis was split.

In the face of the opposition and the split in the Majlis, instead the Prime Minister organised a referendum. This referendum was held in Teheran at the beginning of August 1953, put directly to the people. The result of the referendum was an overwhelming vote of approval for Musaddiq. The opposition deputies declared the referendum illegal and that it had bypassed the Majlis.

On August 12th 1953, Musaddiq announced that in conformity with the referendum he intends to dissolve the Majlis.4

The opposition deputies took possession of the Majlis. The Shah dismissed Musaddiq. In place of him General Zahedi was appointed as the new Prime Minister, and the Commander-in-Chief of the army. Musaddiq refused to step down, the Teheran mob agitated for a republic, and the Majlis was declared dissolved. The Communist party, or the Tudeh party, in Iran backed Musaddiq and called for a People’s Democratic Republic. At the same time ‘the Russians announced that they would aid Iran.’

Musaddiq’s allies however became disillusioned and turned against him. In their view:

he held a referendum and won a victory of Soviet proportions, sealing his apparently total dominance. But he was no longer pursuing the policies to which he had devoted his life. Defender of the constitution against the Shah, he was now allied with street mobs to overthrow influence, he was now backed by the Tudeh and their Soviet sponsors.6

Fear of communist influence in Iran and ‘the Soviet challenge by which both felt themselves threatened, drew Britain and the US closer and closer together’.7  Back in 1952, during an Anglo-American meeting in Washington on 1st February to discuss the oil dispute between Britain and Iran, the crisis in Iran was discussed. It was then agreed thatit was virtually certain that the left-wing Tudeh party would profit from the consequent confusion out of which would evolve a government either infiltrated with Communists or dominated by Communists. It was feared that Musaddiq was soft on communism, that it was highly unlikely that he [Musaddiq] would do anything to check Communism in Persia. This could only be checked by a strong pro-Western government.8

We no longer hope to come to an agreement with Musaddiq, whose replacement has therefore become desirable.9

      1. PRO, London, FO 371/91463, The General Political Correspondence of the Foreign Office, by Sir William Strang, Permanent under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on Musaddiq’s position, 8th September 1951.
      2. L. P. ELWELL-SUTTON, op. cit., p. 311.
      3.  Ibid.
      4.  Ibid, p. 313.
      5.  R. RHODES-JAMES, Anthony Eden, (London: Macmillan, 1986), p. 360.
      6.  B. LAPPING, End of Empire, (London: Paladin Grafton Books, 1989), pp. 217-272.
      7.  S. STRANGE, op. cit., p. 275.
      8.  J. W. YOUNG (Ed.), The Foreign Policy of Churchill’s Peacetime Administration 1951-1955, (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1988), p. 165.
      9.  PRO, London, FO 371/911462, The General Correspondence of the Foreign Office, by Sir William Strang, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on Persian political situation, 21st August 1951.

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