We are responsible for overthrowing Iran's first democratic government. In 1951, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq demanded a share of the profits from Iran's vast oil reserves. For this affront to western moneyed interests, he was deposed by a CIA backed coup.
Operation Ajax was the codename for the CIA's plan. The agency paid Islamic clerics, disaffected army officers, and they employed mobs as demonstrators to foment unrest and carry out the military coup. Mossadeq was removed from power, imprisoned, and later died under house arrest.
The CIA installed the Shah as the ruler of Iran, and for the next 26 years the United States supported and funded his government. This included supplying Iran's military forces with modern weapons and training for the Shah's dreaded secret police unit, SAVAK. The Shah's corrupt dictatorship created the revolution that took over the country in 1979.
Demonstrations against the Shah's rule began in October of 1977. A year later, strikes were paralyzing the country and millions of Iranians were marching in the streets. Protests led to riots, and the Shah ordered the military and SAVAK to quell the uprising.
Thousands died in street battles, thousands more were interrogated and imprisoned. But the crackdown on demonstrators and repression by the Shah's security apparatus could not stop the civil unrest. On January 16th, 1979 the Shah fled Iran.
Most Americans associate the Iranian revolution with the Ayatollah Khomeini. But he returned from exile after the Iranian people forced the Shah to leave the country. In 1979, his control over the revolution was tenuous.
There were Iranian groups calling for democratic elections, and plans to write a modern constitution for the new government. Two events allowed the Ayatollah to establish a theocratic regime and cement his hold over Iran; the seizure of American hostages at the US embassy, and the Iranian war with Iraq.
On November 4th 1979, the Iranian hostage crisis began when a group of militant students took over the US embassy in Tehran. They held the 52 Americans captured there for 444 days. Coming on the heels of defeat in Vietnam, the hostage crisis outraged and demoralized America.
Although the Ayatollah had nothing to do with seizing the American embassy staff, he profited politically from the hostage crisis. He is reported to have said; "This action has many benefits ... this has united our people. Our opponents do not dare act against us."
A year after the Ayatollah returned from exile, all political dissent was set aside as the Iranian people fought for the survival of their country.
In September of 1980, Saddam Hussein launched a full scale invasion of Iran. He saw the political upheaval as an opportunity to capture the oil-rich provinces and control the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway. His regime also feared an uprising among Shia Muslims in Iraq.
His forces outnumbered the Iranians at the beginning of the war, and the Iraqis captured key objectives. But they underestimated the revolutionary zeal of the Iranians. With three times the population of Iraq, Iran's superior numbers weathered the Iraqi offensive, then threatened to invade.
Iranian soldiers carried out suicidal human wave attacks against the better equipped Iraqi forces. The Iraqis dug in, and the war became a deadly stalemate reminiscent of World War One. As Saddam's position became more precarious, he resorted to Scud missile attacks on Iranian cities, and even chemical warfare.
President Reagan declared that the United States; "would do whatever was necessary to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran". His administration provided Iraq with satellite intelligence, and authorized the sale of "dual use" items that had both military and civilian applications. This equipment included trucks, military electronics, and chemicals such as mustard gas and VX nerve agent.
The Iran-Iraq War lasted nine years, and was one of the twentieth century's bloodiest conflicts. Iran suffered an estimated 1 million killed or wounded, including 100,000 casualties from chemical weapons. Iraqi casualties are estimated at 250,000-500,000 killed or wounded.
We supported Saddam during his war with Iran, two years later he invaded Kuwait, and we were fighting him ourselves. During that war, the United States incited the Shia Muslims in Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam. On March 1st 1991, the day after a ceasefire ended the Persian Gulf War, the people of Iraq revolted against Saddam's regime.