175. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


A request in early January by a Bakhtiari tribal leader in Iran for American aid to establish an independent regime in the south raises the [Page 488] question of whether Prime Minister Mossadeq’s opponents will try to use the tribes in an effort to oust him.

This request, which was made to American representatives in both Tehran and Isfahan, is the first approach to the United States. [2½ lines not declassified] There is no confirmation, however, of reports that the Bakhtiari have obtained Russian, British or any other foreign backing for such an attempt or that they are in a position to challenge successfully the government’s control of the area (see map, p. 15).2

There is widespread suspicion in Iran that the British are using Iraq as a base for intrigue against the Tehran government. New reports of British activity among the Bakhtiari, the Qashqai and the Arab tribes in the south have been received. The government and the army also suspect the British of encouraging the Kurds in Iran and Iraq to unite, and army units in the Kurdish areas in the northwest are constantly ordered to investigate reports that British agents have visited this tribe.

Iranian suspicion of Russian intrigue among the tribes is reflected by the 1 December order of Chief of Staff Baharmast to military units in northwestern Iran to investigate reports that the Russians were arming the Kurds and the Tudeh in preparation for joint Tudeh–tribal action. The Azerbaijan Democratic radio in Baku accused the British in early January of arming the southern tribes for a revolt. The Tudeh has had little success in its efforts to gain the support of any of the tribes, which are among the most conservative elements in Iran.

The tribes are the only traditionally important political factor which has not been neutralized by the government’s revolutionary program or made impotent by an unsuccessful effort to unseat Prime Minister Mossadeq. Their aspirations for regaining some of their lost autonomy have been increased by the gradual transfer of power under Mossadeq from the landlords and the army to the nationalistic middle class.

[less than 1 line not declassified] show army concern over intrigues among the Bakhtiari, the Kurds and even the Qashqai. Such intrigues, however, appear directed toward strengthening the tribes’ position against the government rather than toward overthrowing it. For example, the Bakhtiari tribe, which lost much of its strength and influence when the present Shah’s father disarmed it and moved its leaders to Tehran, has been interested for more than a year in consolidating its branches and in gaining some measure of independence of the government.

However, traditional frictions between the tribes and the government have been aggravated by the army’s current efforts to carry [Page 489] out Mossadeq’s program of disarming the tribes. Their susceptibilities to manipulation by Mossadeq’s opponents will be increased if the Prime Minister makes a serious attempt, as Iranian military orders suggest that he will, to disarm the Qashqai and the other more powerful tribes.

Lack of cohesion among the tribes suggests that any revolt in the near future would be unsuccessful without extensive foreign aid. Iranian security forces are considered capable of suppressing any isolated uprising but the army’s reluctance to proceed with the disarmament program corroborates other indications that it would have difficulty controlling widespread rebellion.

A tribal revolt against the government would carry the Tudeh one step further in its program of obtaining control of Iran in that it would pit against each other, and thus weaken, two of the Tudeh’s strongest adversaries.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDI Files, Job 80R01443R, Box 1, Folder 8, NSC Briefing 11 Mar 53. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. Presumably prepared for the March 11 NSC meeting but there is no indication that it was circulated to the NSC.
  2. A map is attached to the memorandum but is not reproduced.