August 19, 1953: The Day the U.S. Put an End to Democratic Rule in Iran

Kermit Roosevelt, chief of CIA's Near East operations division, and on-the-ground manager of the U.S.-U.K. coup plan. Photo courtesy of National Security Archive

Kermit Roosevelt, chief of CIA’s Near East operations division, and on-the-ground manager of the U.S.-U.K. coup plan. Photo courtesy of National Security Archive

“In August 1953, the CIA sent one of its most intrepid agents, Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, to Tehran with orders to overthrow Mossadegh. Employing tactics that ranged from bribing newspaper editors to organizing riots, Roosevelt immediately set to work. From a command center in the basement of the U.S. Embassy, he managed to create the impression that Iran was collapsing into chaos.” (1)

“It took him just a few days to set Iran aflame. Using a network of Iranian agents and spending lavish amounts of money, he created an entirely artificial wave of anti-Mossadegh protest. Members of parliament withdrew their support from Mossadegh and denounced him with wild charges. Religious leaders gave sermons calling him an atheist, a Jew, and an infidel. Newspapers were filled with articles and cartoons depicting him as everything from a homosexual to an agent of British imperialism. He realized that some unseen hand was directing the campaign, but because he had such an ingrained and perhaps exaggerated faith in democracy, he did nothing to repress it.” (2)


The house of ousted Prime Minister Mosaddeq lies in ruins after a prolonged assault by coup forces, including several tanks. (Stephen Langlie, courtesy of Mark Gasiorowski)

“On the night of August 19, an angry crowd, led by Roosevelt’s Iranian agents—and supported by police and military units whose leaders he had suborned—converged on Mossadegh’s home. After a two-hour siege, Mossadegh fled over a back wall. His house was looted and set afire. The handful of American agents who organized the coup were, as Roosevelt later wrote, “full of jubilation, celebration and occasional and totally unpredictable whacks on the back as one or the other was suddenly overcome with enthusiasm. Mossadegh was arrested, tried for high treason, imprisoned for three years, then sentenced to house arrest for life. He died in 1967.” (1)



(1)  From Inside Iran’s Fury by Stephen Kinzer, Smithsonian magazine October 2008

(2) From Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change, From Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer

For another overview of the campaign to overthrow Mossadegh, see William Blum’s The CIA: A Forgotten History, updated and retitled as Killing Hope.

For a large collection of declassified CIA history of that’s agency’s role in the 1953 coup in Iran, see the National Security Archive collection.

See also All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer.


Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran by Mark Gasiorowski and Malcom Byrne.

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