In his new book on the covert history of Iran's
1979 Islamic Revolution, award-winning journalist Roozbeh Mirebrahimi says that
Western powers, including the United States, accelerated events by recognizing
and supporting religious revolutionary forces, forcing the shah to leave the
country and averting a coup by Iran's army.
In 1953, the United States had deposed the popular government of Prime Minister
Mohammed Mosaddeq and his cabinet via a CIA-backed coup d'état. Anti-communist
civilians and army officers supported the coup.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's second departure from Iran, almost a month before
the victory of the revolution in February 1979, had dramatically raised concerns
among the leaders of the revolution that Washington would try to stage another
coup to bring back the shah, who had fled to the United States. However, diplomats
who were at the center of events say that an accommodation was reached between
Western countries and Iran's Islamic clergy.
In an interview with IPS correspondent Omid Memarian, Mirebrahimi said that
the role of the West in facilitating the revolution has been largely ignored,
particularly by the Iranian government itself. His Farsi-language book, Untold
Aspects of the Iranian Revolution (Khazaran, 2008) is based on an extensive
interview with Abbas Amir-Entezam, the spokesman and deputy prime minister in
the interim cabinet of Mehdi Bazargan in 1979.
Amir-Entezam, now Iran's longest-serving political prisoner, was an ambassador
to Scandinavian countries during the hostage crisis at the US Embassy. He
was accused of spying for the US, arrested and sentenced to death in 1981.
This was later reduced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Critics
suggest the charges were retaliation against his early opposition to theocratic
government in Iran.
IPS: There are rumors of a meeting between the French president's representative
and Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris, prior to the revolution. What was the significance
of this meeting?
RM: While Khomeini was in exile in Neauphle-le-Chateau near Paris and leading
the revolution, he was asked by the current world powers to meet and to have
a dialogue. He raised some demands, including the shah's removal from Iran and
help in avoiding a coup d'état by the Iranian Army. On the other side
of the table, the western powers had certain demands too. They were worried
about the Soviet Union's empowerment and penetration and a disruption in Iran's
oil supply to the west. Khomeini gave the necessary guarantees. These meetings
and contacts were taking place in January of 1979, just a few days before the
Islamic Revolution in February 1979.
IPS: What made these same western countries turn against Khomeini and others
just months after 1979 Revolution?
RM: Western powers had been monitoring the political and social changes inside
Iran for a long time. They had been trying to understand the internal changes
in Iran through the forces they had in Iran or the people they would send to
Iran, such as [former US attorney general] Ramsey Clark. They had realized that
Iranian society was on the verge of a fundamental change. They chose to accommodate
this change. After recognizing the opposition groups, they facilitated them
with opportunities such as media coverage. Through this action, changes accelerated
with an unexpected speed. In the next stage, in order to prevent the Soviet
Union from taking advantage of these changes, amongst all existing opposition
groups they chose the religious forces to stand against communism, which was
anti-religion by nature.
IPS: But why after the revolution did they turn against them?
RM: I would say because of the revolutionary atmosphere inside Iran and actions
of the empowered radicals, this relationship faced challenges.
IPS: Why did US officials trust Ayatollah Khomeini enough to negotiate with
RM: [William H.] Sullivan, the US ambassador to Iran, was keeping a very close
watch over Iran's internal affairs and analyzing all the developments. All the
army and military affairs, all the macro-level decisions and reactions by the
Shah's regime, all the activities of the religious forces, activities of the
communists, and all other revolutionary forces were monitored by him. According
to documents and books published in the United States and other western countries,
around September 1978, four months before the revolution, it was clear that
the shah could no longer stay, and that they should be looking for a way to
reach an agreement with the opposition. All the contacts and dialogues picked
up pace during this time. The religious forces that were surrounding Khomeini
at the time were people like Yazdi, Bazargan, Bani sadr, Ghotbzadeh or among
the clergy, people like Beheshti and Motahhari... They were educated and relatively
technocratic and the west felt that they could rely on them. After the revolution,
this trust and relationship remained intact until the invasion of the US Embassy.
IPS: Why did the hostage-taking occur at a time when the new government under
Ayatollah Khomeini had a normal relationship with the US?
RM: Ayatollah Khomeini was opposed to radical actions such as invading the
US Embassy. For example, this was not the first time the US Embassy was occupied.
Right around those early days of the revolution, during the first 10 days, the
US Embassy was occupied for the first time by the leftist forces such as Khalgh
and other parallel forces, but this received a very strong reaction from Ayatollah
Khomeini who sent Ebrahim Yazdi to the embassy to get the revolutionary occupiers
out of there. During the second incident, Khomeini was caught off-guard after
the incident had already taken place. Pressure by the radicals at that time
caused Khomeini to react by standing behind it. That incident caused Prime Minister
Bazargan to resign. Prior to this incident, the relationship of the new government
with the west was still quite normal. We should not forget that exactly one
day after the revolution, the United States officially recognized the new government.
IPS: So what kind of an impact did all this have on the Islamic Revolution?
RM: This book has several features. First, it reexamines the Islamic Republic's
portrayal of the history of the revolution, which is a red line in today's Iran.
Secondly, Amir Entezam himself has always been a red line for the regime, which
has tried so hard to erase his name from all official records. Thirdly, a person
from the new generation, born in the year of the revolution, has done all of
this research. And I'm very happy that after five years of all kinds of bans
and obstacles, this book is getting published.
(Inter Press Service)