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.