US-Iran Series – Part 3: The “Islamic Revolution”

Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini became the supreme leader of Iran in 1979.

In part three of Revolution Observer’s US-Iran series, Idrees Devries describes the events leading up to the “Islamic Revolution” and Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini coming into power.

The US began to search for a party that could take over power from the Shah. Var­i­ous diplo­mats and advi­sors to the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment were sent to Iran under false pre­texts, to ana­lyse the domes­tic sit­u­a­tion in Iran and iden­tify an acceptable alterna­tives to the Shah.

Henry Precht, one of the diplo­mats involved in Iran at the time, described these mis­sions in the fol­low­ing man­ner: “To ensure access to Iran’s new polit­i­cal elite and estab­lish a pro-American regime in Iran”. William H. Sul­li­van, the American ambas­sador to Iran from 1977 to 1979, said about this period: “But in the spring of 1978 (exactly one year before the Islamic rev­o­lu­tion) the sit­u­a­tions were changed and we seized the oppor­tu­nity … our embassy devel­oped its con­tact net­works within the Iran­ian dis­si­dents and won their con­fi­dence … Most of them were sur­prised by our opinions and the fact that how much our opin­ions were close to them … he [the Shah] often asked me, ‘What are your Mul­lah friends doing?’.”

Islamic opposition

When the diplo­mats and advi­sors returned to Wash­ing­ton, a deci­sion was taken to sup­port the Islamic oppo­si­tion to the Shah. The national oppo­si­tion was deemed too weak, namely, while the com­mu­nist oppo­si­tion was too closely aligned with the Soviet Union. This Islamic oppo­si­tion was led by Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini. Khome­ini had lived in Najaf, Iraq, for many years, from which he orga­nised his oppo­si­tion to the Shah. In 1978, how­ever, Sad­dam Hus­sein expelled him, fol­low­ing which he took up res­i­dence in a sub­urb of Paris, France, called Neauphle le Chateau.

While in Najaf, Khome­ini had already been vis­ited by the Amer­i­cans. Richard Cot­tam, a mem­ber of the CIA that had lead the 1953 coup against Mossadeq, had met and dis­cussed with Khome­ini in Najaf on behalf of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. Cot­tam had learned at that time that Khome­ini was con­cerned about a com­mu­nist take-over in Iran, and that he wanted to be care­ful in his attempt to orga­nise a coup against the Shah so as not to give the com­mu­nist the chance to make use of the sit­u­a­tion. Khome­ini asked Cot­tam to com­mu­ni­cate to his mas­ters in Wash­ing­ton that he would be look­ing to Amer­ica for sup­port against a com­mu­nist coup in Iran.

The US

Amer­ica also sent rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Neauphle le Chateau to con­tinue dis­cus­sions and nego­ti­a­tions with Khome­ini and his entourage there. In Octo­ber of 1978 Khome­ini and Amer­ica reached an offi­cial agree­ment under which Khome­ini promised to coop­er­ate with the US if they helped him to top­ple the Shah and fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion would not inter­fere in domes­tic Iran­ian affairs. The US agreed to this.

President Jimmy Carter
President Jimmy Carter

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter then sent Gen­eral Robert Huyser to Iran to ensure sup­port for the rev­o­lu­tion amongst Iran­ian gen­er­als. Huyser arrived in Iran on the 4th of Jan­u­ary 1979. His mes­sage to the Iran­ian gen­er­als was that if they did not sup­port Khomeini’s rev­o­lu­tion, through not inter­fer­ing, the com­mu­nists would certainly make use of the sit­u­a­tion to make Iran a com­mu­nist state. On the 18th of March 1979 the Kuwaiti news­pa­per Al Watan reported: “At the last moment, the United States have explic­itly asked the lead­ers of the army and the gen­er­als to take this posi­tion, and the Amer­i­can State Depart­ment urged its ambas­sador to con­vince, as soon as pos­si­ble, the most promi­nent gen­er­als to not inter­vene and declare their neu­tral­ity in case of polit­i­cal con­flicts”.

Pres­i­dent Carter, in his mem­oirs, con­firmed that Huyser had indeed been sent with this mis­sion: “Huyser was of the opin­ion that the army had made suf­fi­cient plans to pro­tect its equip­ment and facil­i­ties and that it would not come onto the streets. He had dis­suaded some of its lead­ers from the idea of attempt­ing a coup”.

The Shah under­stood Huyser’s visit in the exact same man­ner. In his mem­oirs he said he was sur­prised by the Huyser’s arrival in Tehran in Jan­u­ary 1979 because Huyser had not informed him of his travel plans. The Shah said that the general “had come to Tehran a num­ber of times, sched­ul­ing his vis­its well in advance to dis­cuss mil­i­tary affairs with me and my gen­er­als”. How­ever this time the Shah was not informed. The Shah fur­ther said that about Huyser’s mis­sion: “Huyser suc­ceeded in win­ning over my last chief of staff, Gen­eral Ghara-Baghi, whose later behaviour leads me to believe that he was a trai­tor. He asked Ghara-Baghi to arrange a meet­ing for him with Mehdi Bazargan, the human rights lawyer who became Khomeini’s First Prime Min­is­ter. The Gen­eral informed me of Huyser’s request before I left, but I have no idea of what ensued. I do know that Ghara-Baghi used his author­ity to pre­vent mil­i­tary action against Khome­ini. He alone knows what deci­sions were made and the price paid. It is per­haps sig­nif­i­cant that although all my gen­er­als were exe­cuted, only Gen­eral Ghara-Baghi was spared. His saviour was Behdi Bazargan.”

On the 14th of Jan­u­ary 1979 the Amer­i­can ambas­sador orga­nised a meet­ing between Ebrahim Yazedi, an assis­tant of Khome­ini, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the US State Depart­ment. Yazedi had lived in the US for a long time. In 1961 he had been forced to flee Iran because of his oppo­si­tion to the Shah, after which he reset­tled in Amer­ica. There he had developed close ties with the CIA and the US State Depart­ment. Even­tu­ally he became an Amer­i­can national. Dur­ing the meet­ing War­ren Zim­mer­man, on behalf of the US State Depart­ment, told Yazedi to com­mu­ni­cate a mes­sage to Khome­ini: Khome­ini had to wait and not return to Iran until Huyser had made the nec­es­sary arrange­ments with the Iran­ian gen­er­als.

Then on the 26th of Jan­u­ary the Amer­i­can diplo­mat Ram­sey Clark met with Khome­ini in Neauphle le Chateau. After the meet­ing Clark told jour­nal­ists: “I have a great hope that this rev­o­lu­tion will bring social jus­tice to the Iran­ian peo­ple”. In other words, the rev­o­lu­tion had been arranged and was ready to be executed.

On the 1st of Feb­ru­ary Khome­ini boarded a char­tered Air France plane that took him from Paris to Tehran. The Shah was out­side of Iran at that moment, accord­ing to offi­cial state­ment “on vaca­tion”. It was clear, how­ever, that he knew what was com­ing and had fled Iran know­ing that he was unable to stop it. On the 4th of Feb­ru­ary Khome­ini took for­mal con­trol of Iran and appointed an interim-government. At the head of this gov­ern­ment he placed Mehdi Bazargan.

Khomeini’s arrival in Tehran

Bazargan had been an American infor­mant dur­ing 1978. On behalf of the US gov­ern­ment John Stem­pel, Henry Precht, War­ren Zim­mer­man en Richard Cot­tam all had had meet­ings with the Iran­ian Free­dom Move­ment which was led by Bazargan. Through this Free­dom Move­ment the US remained in close con­tact with Bazargan dur­ing the first months of the rev­o­lu­tion.

Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini arrives in Iran.
Aya­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini arrives in Iran.

On the 14th of Feb­ru­ary Bazargan appointed the other mem­bers of his cab­i­net. The impor­tant posts of sec­ond prime-minister and for­eign min­is­ter went to Abbas Amir-Entezam and Karim San­jabi. Amir-Entezam had lived in Amer­ica for 20 years and had been in con­tact with the CIA since the days of Mossadeq. He had been a resource for the CIA dur­ing the coup against Mossadeq. San­jabi was appointed for­eign min­is­ter. He had been in reg­u­lar con­tact with the American embassy in Tehran. In total, five peo­ple in Bazargan’s cab­i­net held dual Iranian-American cit­i­zen­ship.

The Bazargan gov­ern­ment drafted a new con­sti­tu­tion for Iran, using the French con­sti­tu­tion as a start­ing point. Con­se­quently, the Bazargan con­sti­tu­tion is nationalistic.

Arti­cle 15: “The offi­cial lan­guage and script of Iran, the lin­gua franca of its people, is Per­sian. Offi­cial doc­u­ments, cor­re­spon­dence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this lan­guage and script.”

Arti­cle 41: “Iran­ian cit­i­zen­ship is the indis­putable right of every Iranian.”

Arti­cle 78: “All changes in the bound­aries of the coun­try are for­bid­den”

Arti­cle 115: “The Pres­i­dent must be elected from among reli­gious and polit­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties pos­sess­ing the fol­low­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions: Iran­ian ori­gin; Iran­ian nationality …”

Fol­low­ing the French exam­ple Bazargan also made the peo­ple of Iran the source of legislation:

Arti­cle 6: “In the Islamic Repub­lic of Iran, the affairs of the coun­try must be admin­is­tered on the basis of pub­lic opin­ion expressed by the means of elections”.

Arti­cle 177: “Revi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Islamic Repub­lic of Iran, when­ever needed by the cir­cum­stances, will be done in the fol­low­ing man­ner … The deci­sions of the Coun­cil, after the con­fir­ma­tion and sig­na­tures of the Leader, shall be valid if approved by an absolute major­ity vote in a national referendum.”

Islam was no more than dec­o­ra­tion in Bazargan pro­posal. Nev­er­the­less a ref­er­en­dum on the 24th of Octo­ber chose it as the new con­sti­tu­tion for Iran.

Aya­tol­lah Khome­ini (left) and Mehdi Bazargan (right)
Aya­tol­lah Khome­ini (left) and Mehdi Bazargan (right)

In his mem­oirs, Pres­i­dent Carter said about Bazargan’s gov­ern­ment: “He and his pre­dom­i­nantly Western-educated cab­i­net mem­bers coop­er­ated with us. They pro­tected our embassy, pro­vided safe travel for Gen­eral Philip C. Gast, who had replaced Huyser, and sent us a series of friendly mes­sages. Bazargan announced pub­licly his eager­ness to have good rela­tions with the United States, and said that Iran would soon resume nor­mal oil ship­ments to all its cus­tomers.”

So clearly, the anti-American rhetoric dur­ing Khomeini’s rev­o­lu­tion was not an expres­sion of the rela­tion­ship between Khomeini’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary regime and the Amer­i­cans, but a polit­i­cal strat­egy to ensure sup­port for the rev­o­lu­tion amongst the pop­u­lace of Iran. The Iran­ian peo­ple were well aware of America’s many years of sup­port for the Shah and there­fore held Amer­ica partly responsible for the oppres­sion and tyranny dur­ing this era. This left Khome­ini no other choice but to pub­licly denounce Amer­ica, although behind closed doors he and his peo­ple worked closely with the US.

With this real­ity in mind, the case of the occu­pa­tion of the US embassy in Tehran, which lasted from 1979 to 1981, should be reviewed and stud­ied. Towards the end of 1979 it became appar­ent that Khomeini’s rev­o­lu­tion was stalling and was in need of a new push. The Bazargan gov­ern­ment had not been able to imme­di­ately improve the liv­ing con­di­tions of most Ira­ni­ans and the peo­ple began to ques­tion whether Khome­ini would ever be able to. In addi­tion, the intel­lec­tual elite, raised dur­ing the time of the Shah, had issues with many arti­cles in the new con­sti­tu­tion while some in the clergy did not feel com­fort­able with Khomeini’s polit­i­cal activ­i­ties.

Iranian hostage crisis

On the 1st of Novem­ber 1979 Bazargan met Pres­i­dent Carter’s head of the National Secu­rity Agency (NSA), Zbig­niew Brzezin­ski, in Algiers. Shortly after this meet­ing Amer­ica gave the Shah per­mis­sion to travel to the US for med­ical treatment. The two events infu­ri­ated the Iran­ian pub­lic and were pre­sented by the Iran­ian media as Amer­i­can efforts to return the Shah back to power. In response, Iran­ian stu­dents entered the com­pound of the Amer­i­can embassy in Tehran on the 4th of Novem­ber and took the embassy per­son­nel hostage.

Dur­ing Feb­ru­ary of the same year a sim­i­lar event had taken place. This time Khome­ini had imme­di­ately ordered the students to return home. How­ever, all lead­ers in Khomeini’s rev­o­lu­tion expressed sup­port for the action of the stu­dents. On the 5th of Novem­ber Khome­ini, Aya­tol­lah Behesti and Aya­tol­lah Mon­taz­eri all expressed sup­port for the occu­pa­tion, sep­a­rately but at roughly the same time. An indi­ca­tion that the hostage tak­ing was part of a plan. Con­se­quently, the Iranian public’s atten­tion was moved from domes­tic issues to the “Great Satan” Amer­ica.

Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days.
Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days.

Two days into the hostage sit­u­a­tion, Bazargan resigned as prime-minister. In Jan­u­ary 1980, the Iran­ian peo­ple then elected a new prime-minister – Abul Has­san Bani Sadr. Bani Sadr had been in con­tact with the Amer­i­cans since Khomeini’s stay in Paris. His con­tact at the CIA was Guy Ruther­ford. Many years later Bani Sadr would con­firm that the Iran­ian hostage cri­sis had been part of an Amer­i­can plan, the objec­tive of which had been to strengthen Khomeini’s posi­tion domes­ti­cally and give his regime a valid rea­son to meet the US for dis­cus­sions.

The hostage cri­sis came to an end exactly the day Ronald Rea­gan entered the White House as pres­i­dent of the US. The release of the Amer­i­can hostages was part of a treaty between Iran and Amer­ica that became known as the Algiers Treaty. In addi­tion to the release of the hostages through this treaty the two coun­tries also agreed that the US would not inter­fere in Iran’s domes­tic affairs, that the rela­tions between the two coun­tries would be man­aged through appoint­ment of a third coun­try mediator, and that around $12 bil­lion of Iran­ian assets in the US that was confiscated fol­low­ing the rev­o­lu­tion against the Shah be returned.

As you’re here…

5Pillars have one humble request from you…

Thousands of Muslims around the world visit our website for news every day. Due to the unfortunate reality of covering Muslim-related news in a heightened Islamophobic environment, our advertising and fundraising revenues have decreased significantly.

5Pillars is editorially and financially independent, with no sectarian or political allegiance to any particular group or movement. Our journalism has been exclusively grassroots focussed and our sole purpose is to defend Islam and Muslims in the media.

This makes us unique in comparison to other online Muslim media outlets who are neither independently regulated by a reputable body nor are they managed by qualified journalists.

Our journalism takes time, money and effort to deliver. But we do it because we believe we have a duty to Allah (swt).

You may not agree or like everything we publish. However, which other Muslim news site that is run by experienced journalists will take on the responsibility of being a shield for Islam and Muslims in the media?

If you follow 5Pillars, and you understand its importance in today’s climate, then please support us for as little as £5 a month, it only takes a minute to make a donation. Jazakallah khayran.

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:“The best deeds are those done regularly, even if they are small.” [Ibn Mājah]

 

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT 5PILLARS

Add your comments below

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.