Tag Archives: Mohammad Reza Shah

Last time we supported the Kurds

In their fight against IS, Iraqi Kurds have received support from US, Iran, and Israel, among others. This is not the first time the Kurds have thrown their lot with these three countries, however.  Forty years ago in 1974 the Kurds, the United States, Iran, and Israel also faced a common enemy. The enemy was the Baathist regime in Iraq.

In 1970 the Baath government in Baghdad aKurdish-inhabited_areas_of_the_Middle_East_and_the_Soviet_Union_in_1986nd Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Mullah Mustafa Barzani had agreed on an autonomy plan for Iraqi Kurdistan. However, Baghdad stalled on implementing the agreement and in 1974 unilaterally decreed a Kurdish autonomous region on its own terms.  When Barzani turned down the plan, the Iraqi military launched an offensive against the Kurds. There were at least four reasons that brought US, Iran, and Israel together to back Kurdish aspirations in Iraq.

First, the United States considered Iraq a client state of the Soviet Union and thus a threat to its interests in the Middle East. Thus, even though Iraq exported oil to the rest of the world and traded heavily with Western Europe, its military and economic ties to the Soviet Union made containing or weakening it a central goal of the American policy. This task was placed in part on the shoulders of Mohammad Reza Shah, the autocratic monarch of Iran.

Second, Mohammad Reza Shah had been challenging Iraq’s sovereignty over Shat Al-Arab waterway. The 1933 treaty had placed the border on Iran’s shoreline.  The Shah wanted Iraq to sign a new treaty that would place the border on the river’s thalweg, thus giving Iran sovereign access to its important Khoramshahr port. Iran under Mohamad Reza Shah was one of the two “pillars” of the UnitShat_edited-1ed States policy in the Persian Gulf (the other pillar being Saudi Arabia). The United States relied on the Shah to police the Persian Gulf and help with containment of Soviet Union and its ally, Iraq.  For these reasons, the Shah was given carte blanche by the Nixon-Kissinger team to buy a large array of sophisticated weapons from the United States. The Shah used its modern military and American support not only to become the policeman of the Gulf but also to put pressure on Iraq. The challenge had the additional effect of refocusing Iraq’s attention away from Israel.


Third, in the mid-1970s, Iraq had remained a concern for Israel for several reasons. Iraq was an enthusiastic participant in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and while Syria and Egypt were indirectly negotiating with Israel under the auspices of the United States, Iraq had remained a defiant foe with a large military. Furthermore, Iraq was the only major Arab country that followed a largely independent foreign policy. Gulf monarchies and Jordan had allied themselves closely with the United States. The oil rich, “socialist”, republican Iraq was therefore could attract the support of

Arab masses still hopeful for independence from superpowers and justice for Palestinians and thus represent a threat to Israel’s expansionist policies as well as the stability of conservative Arab monarchies.

Fourth, any meaningful Kurdish autonomy in Iraq would have emboldened the neighboring Kurdish populations inside Iran and Turkey, encouraging them to launch their own military campaigns and thus weakening United States and Israel’s allies, Iran and Turkey. Thus, any military support for Iraqi Kurds had to enable the Kurds to fight a war of attrition but deny them the ability to defeat the Iraqi military.

The plan, hatched by Henry Kissinger, was for United States, Iran, and Israel to provide weapons, logistical support, intelligence, and military advice to Iraqi Kurds. Some of the weapons may have been supplied by Egypt from its old stockpile of Soviet made arms in order to confuse and throw off the Iraqis regarding the true intentions of the Soviet Union. United States provided money and intelligence in addition to promises to Barazani of continuing American commitment to the Kurdish cause in Iraq.  Shah of Iran provided funding in addition to logistical support, and Israelis provided military advice. The result was that in 1974 the Kurdish forces managed to pin down a sizable Iraqi force. The pressure was sufficient enough to force the Iraqi regime to offer Iran a favorable resolution of their border disputes. The Shah and Saddam Hussein met in Algiers in early 1975.  In return for Iraq’s compromise over Shat Al Arab border, support for the Kurdish forces was withdrawn and soon thereafter, the Iraqi military was able to overwhelm the Kurds. Some of the Kurdish population and their leaders, including Barzani, fled to Iran before the Shah sealed the border. The Kurdish refugees subsisted in half dozen camps near Iran-Iraq border before they were transferred a thousand miles to northeastern Iran. Barazani lived near Iran’s capital, Tehran as the Shah’s “guest” and then traveled to US for cancer treatment where he died in 1979.

Clearly, Kurds were only to be used to achieve the national and regional goals of their benefactors and nothing more.  Indeed, the House Pike Committee investigating US intelligence agencies documented as much, accusing the US of indifference to the faith of the Iraqi Kurds from the start.


Iran’s Freedom Martyrs

August 19 is the anniversary of the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup in Iran. The coup overthrew a government with remarkable commitment to the norms of liberal democracy. The faith of Premier Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh has rightfully received a good deal of scholarly and journalistic attention. He was tried for treason, imprisoned for three years, and died under house arrest in March of 1967.  The stories of two of his comrades, Dr. Hussain Fatemi and Brigadier General Mahmoud Afshartous, however, have received little attention outside of the Farsi press. They paid with their lives for their defense of the popular movement Dr. Mossadegh had come to symbolize. Their deaths represents the brutality and pettiness of Mohammad Reza Shah and his domestic and foreign collaborators.

Dr. Hussain Fatemi was a newspaper editor and a founding member of the liberal National Front, formed in 1950 to end British influence in Iran through the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.  He later became a Majlis deputy, a deputy premier, and a foreign minister.

In the unsuccessful first act of the Anglo-American coup, Dr. Fatemi was arrested, his family terrorized, and his house ransacked during early hours of August 15, 1953 by Imperial guardsmen.  Once the first coup attempt failed and the Shah fled in disgrace, Fatemi wrote a series of scathing editorials about the Shah, calling him a deceitful servant of British imperialism.  He also publicly spoke out against him in a pro-Mossadegh rally.  After the overthrow of Mossadegh, Dr. Fatemi went into hiding until March 1954 when he was arrested.  He was verbally abused and punched in the face inside the Jeep that was taking him to Tehran’s central police station by no other than the Imperial Guard’s commander and coup plotter, (and future head of Shah’s secret police, SAVAK), General Nematollah Nassiri.  As he was leaving the police station in hand cuffs and surrounded by military officers, Dr. Fatemi was attacked by the notorious south Tehran purchased mob leader, Shaban Jafari (“Shaban the Brainless”) and his underlings.  While military guards watched, Dr. Fatemi’s sister was seriously injured when she threw herself on her brother to protect him.  She had heard about her brother’s arrest on the radio and rushed to the police station to be with him. Both were stabbed repeatedly.


Dr. Fatemi spent most of the next eight months under military guard in hospital where he was regularly sleep deprived.  The stabbing had further aggravated Dr. Fatemi’s condition. Two years earlier he had been shot in the stomach from a close range by a member of “Fedayeen e Islam” (Devotees of Islam) and had not yet fully recovered.  Later, he had to be taken to the sessions of his secret military trial on a stretcher and was given a one ten-minute visit with his wife, sister, and his eight-month old son.  He was sentenced to death for treason by the military tribunal.  The Shah intervened to deny Dr. Fatemi’s lawful request for consideration of his sentence by Iran’s Supreme Court.  On the morning of November 10, 1954, while still ill and running a fever, Dr. Fatemi was executed by a firing squad.  His last words were, “long live Mossadegh.” Dr. Fatemi was 37 years old. (1)

The 45-year-old Afshartous was member of the pro-Mossadegh Nationalist Officer’s Organization.  Appointed by Mossadegh as Iran’s chief of police in February of 1953, Afshartous was given the task of cleaning up the Imperial armed forces from its many corrupt elements. Committed to strict enforcement of the law, he regularly ignore Palace’s interventions in security matters.


On 19 April 1953, Afshartous was kidnapped by elements linked to General Fazlolah Zahedi, the CIA-MI6 choice to replace Mossadegh and Dr. Mozafar Baghaie, a onetime supporter of Mossadegh with links to Tehran’s underworld who had now thrown his lot with imperialists. The plot had been hatched by the British intelligence. (2) According to the subsequent confessions of the kidnappers, the hope was that the disappearance of the country’s police chief would result in disturbances that would bring the government down and Afshartous could then be released.  The public remained calmed, however, and thus Afshartous could not be released without discovery of those involved in his kidnapping. (3) Police searching for Afshartous found his body in a cave near Tehran. He had been tortured and strangled. He left behind a wife and two small children. Mozafar Baghaie and General Zahedi, who faced arrest, were given refugee inside Majlis by the Speaker, Ayatollah Kashani.

In November of 1953, with the coup government in control, those involved in the murder of General Afshartous were cleared and set free. One of the ringleaders, Huessein Khatibi, became Shah’s confidant.




  • Afrasiabi, Bahram, Khaterat va Moberezat Doctor Hussein Fatemi, 2nd edition, 1991.
  • Gasiorowski, Mark, The 1953 Coup D’etat in Iran, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3, Aug., 1987, p. 270.
  • Mosavar Rahmany, Ghlam Reza, Kohneh Sarbaz, 1987, pp. 385-391.