181. Memorandum Prepared in the Office of Intelligence and Research, Department of State1

No. 1378


The displacement of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosadeq of Iran by his nearest political rival, Mullah Abol Qasem Kashani, would be disadvantageous to Western interests. Both Kashani and Mosadeq are political opportunists, but whereas Mosadeq, despite his passionate nationalism, has an underlying respect for certain aspects of Western liberalism, Kashani views contemporary problems from a narrowly Moslem outlook, severely warped by many years of bitter conflict with British authority.2

Kashani’s Potentialities for Gaining Power

Mosadeq’s prestige and political skill virtually preclude Kashani from coming to power as long as the incumbent Prime Minister is alive and politically active. Should Mosadeq retire or die, however, Kashani would be the leading contender for his mantle, since he has the largest bloc of votes (after Mosadeq) in the Majlis and controls the largest potential force, except for Tudeh, for public demonstrations and physical intimidation of his opposition. Power to choose the Prime Minister resides in the Majlis, and it is very unlikely that the Shah would risk another “Qavam incident” by appointing as Prime Minister anyone who did not have controlling Majlis support.

Despite these initial elements of strength, the succession of Kashani cannot be regarded as a cut-and-dried proposition. His elec[Page 513]tion as president of the Majlis despite Mosadeq’s disapproval was the result of a tactical maneuver of the moment, and provides no assurance that the Majlis would support Kashani for Prime Minister. Opposition to the Mullah, which would be formidable, would arise from the following considerations: (1) his personal conceit and ambition for power, which discourage cooperation; (2) doubts of the genuineness of his professed interest in social and political reform; (3) his well-known record for unscrupulousness and opportunism; (4) his open antagonism toward the Shah and the army; (5) his outspoken support of various bigoted practices; (6) his lack of business experience; and (7) his lack of executive experience at any level of government.3 Should he gain power his tenure might well be short, especially if his resort to violent methods should result in his own assassination.

One other alternative must be considered, and that is the very real possibility that Kashani does not want the responsibility of being Prime Minister. He would probably prefer the power without the office, and may actually envisage himself as president or titular head of an Iranian republic.

What Is Kashani’s Appeal?

Kashani’s support derives from two factors: (1) political and religious emotion, and (2) material self-interest. Since World War I, when his father lost his life allegedly as a result of British action in Iraq and when Kashani participated in the declaration of Jihad (Holy War) against the Allies, he has been in frequent bitter clashes with British authority. During World War II he was interned by the British Army. This record of suffering at British hands has made Kashani a popular hero—a veteran in the fight against “imperialism” imposed by nations not only foreign, but Christian. He has used this religious factor effectively to stir up political support from pious figures throughout Iranian society. He has also secured support by providing employment or material advantages for followers. His political and philanthropic activities require considerable funds. Reports that he receives contributions from Iranians of all classes for favors promised or received are undoubtedly true. But it is significant that this is a usual Iranian practice to which no stigma is attached.

Kashani has—like Mosadeq—built his political career on opportunism, i.e., by taking advantage of developments for which he was not primarily responsible. The most important of these, of course, was the growing resentment of foreign interference and pressure in Iran during and following the 1941–46 Anglo-Soviet occupation of Iran. Kashani [Page 514] did not lead the move to oust the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but once it was underway he made tremendous personal capital out of it.

In building his political power, Kashani has taken full advantage of his unusual theatrical talents, displaying exceptional skill in exploiting the rural contacts and the self-interest of the Iranian clergy, and appealing to the piety of small merchants in urban centers. He has not hesitated to use his position as a member of the Moslem clergy to arouse latent suspicions of the Christian West, and many of his political activities have followed the pattern of a ward boss, and sometimes even that of a gangster.

The political supporters of Kashani and Mosadeq—as well as those of the Communist-dominated Tudeh Party—are drawn from much the same social groups. The MosadeqKashani followers constitute the socialistically-inclined National Front group which became politically vocal in 1950 and which derives its strength from government workers, skilled labor, small property owners, teachers, students, and some clerics. Its concentration is greatest in urban areas where problems of organization and communication are relatively easy. Adherents who are religiously inclined tend to turn to Kashani for guidance. On the other hand, the aristocrats and the Western-educated youth who form the hard core of the National Front, in general, prefer Mosadeq. Mosadeq’s advantage lies in his integrity, his current control of the government organization, and his political astuteness. Aside from Mosadeq, the only other National Front leader whose prestige approaches that of Kashani is Allahyar Saleh, currently Iranian Ambassador to the US.

Kashani’s major domestic political targets are the Court, the army, and more recently, Mosadeq. His resentment toward the Court probably arises from (1) the ruthless destruction of the clergy’s power by the late Reza Shah; (2) a belief that the present Shah is dominated by British-oriented advisers; and (3) resentment that a man of the Shah’s non-religious character should be the titular defender and propagator of the Shiah Faith of Islam. His resentment toward the army probably arises from (1) the army’s role as the instrument of Reza Shah’s domination, and (2) the manhandling which Kashani received at the hands of army officers following his arrest and exile at the time of the attempted assassination of the Shah in February 1947 [1949].4

Kashani’s present opposition to Mosadeq appears to stem from personal pique that Mosadeq is not more amenable to persuasion or direction from Kashani in appointments and policies. Kashani is also jealous of Mosadeq’s justifiably higher reputation for integrity, and his [Page 515] better domestic and foreign press. Kashani’s present tactics against Mosadeq seem designed more to embarrass the Prime Minister and “cut him down to size” than to strengthen the Shah or bring about Mosadeq’s replacement as Prime Minister.

Probable Policies of a Kashani-Dominated Government

A government under Kashani’s domination would be likely to pursue the present policies of the National Front, though with increased use of violence and even assassination to control the opposition and a more open distribution of political spoils.

Unless Kashani could establish an immediate dictatorship—and there are no indications at present that he has that capability—his freedom of action would be severely limited by his need for political allies. Since Kashani would not enjoy the popular confidence and prestige accorded Mosadeq, his need for support would be greater, and the obligation to use force more compelling.

The Kashani and ex-Mosadeq forces would probably unite in the face of any serious threat from either the Court or the Tudeh Party. Kashani’s potential opponents, including the army, are likely to be disunited and to calculate that their chances for survival would be greater as a result of negotiation with Kashani than if they joined the Court or Tudeh in open opposition. His opposition probably would be strong enough to force Kashani to carry out minimum social, economic, and political improvements and prevent him from implementing any inclination to transform Iran into a theocratic state.

Kashani has strongly supported the following basic National Front policies: (1) nationalization of the oil industry; (2) elimination of British influence in Iran; and (3) replacement of the political power of the traditional governing groups by that of the “people” expressed through a “truly national” Majlis. He has also adhered to the National Front and Tudeh propaganda line that all Great Powers, but especially the US and the UK, (1) follow imperialistic policies, (2) conspire with one another against weak nations, (3) control international organizations for imperialistic purposes, and (4) pursue a foreign policy toward weak nations which is not endorsed by their own public opinion.

On two themes, Kashani has gone much further than Mosadeq. He has from the beginning asserted that the exploitation of Iran’s oil resources was a national curse rather than a blessing because of the extent to which revenues from the AIOC affected the Iranian economy and government operations, plus the fact that control of the AIOC was in foreign hands. He has therefore urged that Iran forget its oil resources and develop a self-sustaining economy and governmental structure not dependent on them. Secondly, Kashani—unlike Mosadeq—advocates [Page 516] violent means, including demonstrations and political assassination, to free Iran from the grip of those leaders—such as the assassinated Prime Minister Ali Razmara—whom Kashani regards as traitors responsive to foreign influence.

Attitude toward the West

There is no convincing evidence that Kashani has (1) sought substantial foreign aid in his quest for power, (2) received substantial foreign aid from any source, or (3) if he did so, either could or would carry out any commitments he might make as a quid pro quo. In the current power struggle in Iran, public knowledge of any acceptance of aid either from the West or the Soviet bloc would rapidly destroy Kashani’s power, and the likelihood that such assistance could be concealed in a society such as Iran’s is practically nil. Furthermore, it appears improbable that Kashani needs at this time the type of aid which any foreign source could supply. The instruments Kashani must deal with are Moslem and Iranian, all intensely nationalistic and therefore anxious to avoid the charge of subservience to any foreign power.

In view of Kashani’s convictions and aspirations, as well as the political forces which would limit his freedom of action, there are no grounds for believing that he could or would wish to promote closer relations between Iran and the UK except if accompanied by further British surrender of power or prestige. Insofar as he regarded US activities as attempts to restore or replace British activities, he would be likely to oppose them. At the same time, he would probably try to maintain friendly relations with the US Government and Americans and to seek US technical and economic assistance if available without unacceptable political strings. However, Kashani would probably regard any foreign efforts to further his political or personal ambitions as motivated only by self-interest, therefore requiring no quid pro quo on his part.

There is no likelihood that a government dominated by Kashani would abandon the current Iranian policy of neutrality in the East-West struggle. A Kashani government might attempt to establish a strong neutral Moslem bloc. Under his guidance, Iranian relations with Turkey and Iraq would not improve as long as Western influence remains strong in these two countries.5

  1. Source: British National Archives, General Correspondence of the Foreign Office, FO 371/104565. Secret; Security Information. The memorandum is attached to a covering sheet in which A.K. Rothnie of the British Foreign Office, indicated that Joseph Palmer of the U.S. Embassy in London had given the assessment to the Foreign Office on May 1. Rothnie also commented that “neither we nor the Americans see any hope in Kashani as a successor to Mussaddiq, nor, a fortiori, do we see any sense in assisting him to power.”
  2. OIR prepared this assessment as a result of discussions between Eden and Smith and Byroade in Washington on March 6. As recorded in Foreign Office telegram 526, March 9, Eden raised the possibility of Kashani acting as a successor to Mosadeq. Smith responded that as the danger of Mosadeq’s demanding Henderson’s recall from Tehran had receded, the United States was “no longer thinking in terms of any urgent need to find a successor to Musaddiq. The conclusion seemed to be that there was nothing we could usefully do and that we must wait on events. We agreed, however, to examine the possibilities of (a) dealing with Kashani as an alternative to Musaddiq and (b) using some intermediary such as the Swiss or Camille Gutt.” (Ibid., FO 371/104614)
  3. In the left margin of the memorandum is the handwritten question, “no opposition of mujtahids?” This question is in an unknown hand.
  4. Brackets and corrected date are on the original.
  5. The Foreign Office produced its own assessment of Kashani and handed it to the U.S. Embassy in London on April 16. It concluded that “Kashani would be of no use to us, and almost certainly a hindrance, as a successor to Dr. Mussadiq both generally and in an oil settlement.” In a covering memorandum, A.D.M. Ross of the Foreign Office informed Harold Beeley, the U.K. Counselor in Washington, that “while there is perhaps a chance that he [Kashani] could be brought to power by foreign aid, there is no likelihood of his co-operating with us or of his accomplishing anything of real benefit to Persia. Our friends agree with the paper.” (British National Archives, General Correspondence of the Foreign Office, FO 371/104566)