Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part VI, Rise of the Ayatollahs

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.)

Today, we look at the rise of the Ayatollahs.

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The Rise of the Ayatollahs

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes* 

Ayatollah Khomeini, image from public domain

September 2, 1945

In Tokyo Harbor on the deck of the USS Missouri, General Douglas MacArthur, representing the Combined Allied Forces, accepted the surrender of Japanese General Yoshijiro Emezu and Japanese Rear Admiral Tadatoshi Tomioka, ending World War Two. Admiral Chester Nimitz signed on behalf of the United States of America. The War was so vast and hideous that between fifty-five and seventy million people died worldwide, and another fifteen million human beings would remain forever unaccounted.


As a direct result of the political maps drawn up at Potsdam Conference at the end of World War Two by the UK, USA, and USSR, both the Soviet Union and the UK departed from Iran. The agreement did not require the UK to leave, but choose to voluntarily.

June 26, 1950

Haj Ali Razmara became Prime Minister of Iran. Though he had attempted a better deal, he planned to sign a new agreement with British Petroleum and the UK government that was less favorable to Iran than other agreements in force in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Razmara also planned on instituting more democratic reforms and granting local authority to locally elected officials. This frightened the Shia religious leaders.

March 7, 1951

A member of the Fadayan e Islam assassinated Razmara. The Shia religious leaders controlled the Fadayan e Islam, but no plot was tied to them.

Nationalist Muhammad Mossadeq became prime minister. He nationalized the oil industry, and Great Britain declared an embargo on Iranian oil. A power struggle brewed between the Shah Reza Pahlavi and Mossadeq.

August 16, 1953

Prime Minister Mossadeq, supported by a growing communist movement, refused an order from the Shah to resign his office. The Shah went into exile in Rome.

August 19, 1953

Before the Shah and his entourage could finish unpacking, the CIA and MI-6 arranged a counter coup against Mossadeq. Because of their fear of communism, the Shia Mullahs quietly supported the coup.  General Fazlollah Zahedi was installed as prime minister. The Shah returned to Iran.


Great Britain, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan signed the Baghdad Pact. The Pact granted Great Britain a leadership role in the region’s fight against communism.


The CIA trained a secret police organization for the Shah named the SAVAK. SAVAK answered directly to the Shah, and not to the elected members of the Majlis.


The Shah announced the White Revolution. The plan was to increase local democratic institutions, build more industry, complete land reforms, and lessen rural Iranians’ dependency on the Mullahs. The White Revolution included voting rights and equal protection under the law for Iranian women. The Mullahs were incensed and did all they could to resist modernization. “Ayatollah” Khomeini was jailed for plotting against the government.


Khomeini was released from jail and immediately attempted to organize a revolution against the government and against the modernization of Iran. Khomeini was exiled to Iraq, where he continued his work against the government of Iran.


US President Richard Nixon agreed to arm the Shah with the intention of preparing Iran to better resist threats by the USSR. Iran purchased $4 billion USD in arms shipments.


Continued military expenditures and a drop in oil revenue caused economic problems in Iran. Khomeini’s forty-nine year old son died, and the Mullahs accused SAVAK of murdering him. Others suspected the Soviet KGB of the murder.


The Shah announced more modernization reforms. The Mullahs were angered and organized more protests. Rioting broke out. The Iranian police killed several hundred protestors in Tabriz, Tehran and Qom. Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to Paris. Khomeini did a great job playing the Western press. He managed to sell himself as a democratic reformer and a supporter of freedom.

January 16, 1979

The Shah and his family fled Iran as the government collapsed.

February 1, 1979

Posing as a religious leader, political con man Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran with promises of new freedoms and democracy. He brought, instead, a new Dark Age of ignorance and oppression to Iran.

Khomeini’s return from exile, image from public domain

February 14, 1979

The Mullahs’ thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran, but withdrew.

April 1, 1979

Happy April Fools Day. The Islamic Republic of Iran was announced. The Ayatollah declared himself “Supreme Leader.” The people of Iran lost judicial protection. Politicians could only run for office if Khomeini approved of them. The “Revolutionary Guards” become the new enforcement arm of the Ayatollah.

The Revolutionary Guards were new in the secret police business, and they used many SAVAK members to build their organization. Women lost their civil rights. The Ayatollah announced that America was the great Satan and kicked off his “Great Satan” PR campaign. He nationalized all foreign assets, and book burnings began. Witch hunts against non-Muslims became a new recreational pastime.

November 4, 1979

After the USA allowed the exiled Shah to enter the USA for cancer treatment, Khomeini’s thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 Americans. Many American reservists started reporting for duty voluntarily. They knew President Carter would likely order a mobilization and attack on Iran. The order never came.

Next time, we will look at the action President Carter did take, which was the attempted hostage rescue, Operation Eagle Claw.

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*‘Jay Holmes’, is an intelligence veteran of the Cold War and remains an anonymous member of the intelligence community. His writing partner, Piper Bayard, is the public face of their partnership.

Bayard & Holmes blog at Bayard & Holmes. You may contact them in blog comments, on Twitter at@piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at piperbayard@yahoo.com

© 2012 Jay Holmes. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact us at the above links to request permission.



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One Response to "Iran’s Present is Iran’s Past – Part VI, Rise of the Ayatollahs"

  1. If Iran is attacked by the USA or Israel – make NO mistake that there will be one hell-of-a-price-to-pay!!! It might be better to just let them have the bomb – because they won’t use it, knowing that their own country and people would be annihilated if they did!! There is also the “oil” problem to consider as well – the yanks can’t afford to have gasoline at $6-7 a gallon – as that would cripple the US economy, which is still struggling now to gain any momentum!

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