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History of BP Includes Role in 1953 Iran Coup After Nationalization of Oil

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As tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill, we continue our series on BP. Sixty years ago, BP was called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. We look at the story of the company’s role in the 1953 CIA coup against Iran’s popular progressive prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. [includes rush transcript]


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, as tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill, we continue our series on BP. Yesterday we looked at their horrendous safety record and the millions of dollars they’ve spent on lobbying Congress to prevent regulation. Today we’re going to look at the history.

Sixty years ago, BP was called Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In an interview on Democracy Now!, Stephen Kinzer, the former New York Times bureau chief, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, told the story of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s role in the 1953 CIA coup against Iran’s popular progressive prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. Let’s go to a clip of what Stephen Kinzer says.

    STEPHEN KINZER: At the beginning of the twentieth century, as a result of a corrupt deal with the old dying monarchy, one British company, owned mainly by the British government, had taken control of the entire Iranian oil industry.

    AMY GOODMAN: The company?

    STEPHEN KINZER: So, this one company had the exclusive rights to extract, refine, ship, and sell Iranian oil. And they paid Iran a very tiny amount. But essentially, the entire Iranian oil resource was owned by a company based in England and owned mainly by the British government.

    AMY GOODMAN: Called British Petroleum?

    STEPHEN KINZER: That was Anglo-Iranian Petroleum, later to become British Petroleum and BP.

    I’m still on my, like, one-man boycott. Like I go to the Shell station, as if Shell is somehow morally superior to BP. But still, in my own mind, I feel like I’m redeeming Mosaddegh whenever I pass by one of those BP stations.

    Anyway, what happened was that Prime Minister Mosaddegh, who really was an extraordinary figure in his time, although he’s been somewhat forgotten by history, came to power in 1951 on a wave of nationalism aimed at this one great obsession: we’ve got to take back control of our oil and use the profits for the development of one of the most wretchedly impoverished nations on earth at that time. So the Iranian parliament voted unanimously for a bill to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Petroleum Company, and Mosaddegh signed it, and he devoted himself, during his term of office, to carrying out that plan, to nationalize what was then Britain’s largest and most profitable holding anywhere in the world.

    Bear in mind that the oil that fueled England all during the 1920s and '30s and ’40s all came from Iran. The standard of living that people in England enjoyed all during that period was due exclusively to Iranian oil. Britain has no oil. Britain has no colonies that have oil. Every factory in England, every car, every truck, every taxi was running on oil from Iran. The Royal Navy, which was projecting British power all over the world, was fueled a hundred percent by oil from Iran.

    Suddenly Iran arrives and says, "Oh, we're taking back the oil now." So this naturally set off a huge crisis. And that’s the crisis that made Mosaddegh really a big world figure around the early 1950s. At the end of 1951, TIME magazine chose him as "Man of the Year," and they chose him over Winston Churchill, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower. And they made the right choice, because at that moment, Mosaddegh really was the most important person in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, wrote All the Shah’s Men, talked extensively about the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which was renamed British Petroleum. That’s BP.

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