Special Report: Are Long-Term US Regime Change Efforts Behind Iran Protests?

| Podcast

This is our first Special Report recorded in the new Popular Resistance Studio.

We talked to Mostafa Afzalzadeh from Tehran about what the current protests in Iran are about and where they are going. Mostafa has been an independent journalist in Iran for 15 years and a documentary filmmaker. One of his documentaries is Manufacturing Dissent, about the US, UK and their western and Gulf State allies that launched a covert war in Syria in early 2011, dressed up by the media as a “revolution,” to remove Assad from power and the role of western media in creating support for the war.

Mostafa said the US has been trying to change the Iranian government since the 1979 Iranian revolution. He described how the Bush administration and former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, created the Office of Iranian Affairs (OIA) which had offices not only in Tehran but also in many European Cities. Iran hardliners were appointed to run the office which reported to Elizabeth Cheney, vice president Dick Cheney’s daughter. The office is tied to other US regime change agencies, e.g. the National Republican Institute, National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House. Related to the OIA was the Iran Democracy Fund of the Bush era, followed by the Near East Regional Democracy Fund in the Obama era, and the US Agency for International Development. There is no transparency in these programs, so we cannot report where US funding of opposition groups is going.

The OIA was used to organize and build the Iranian opposition to the government, a tactic the US has used in many countries. One of the roles of the office, reportedly, was to be “part of an effort to channel funds to groups that could aid opposition factions within Iran.”  Rice testified in February 2006 about the State Department budget for Iran before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying:

“I want to thank the Congress for giving us $10 million to support the cause of freedom and human rights in Iran this year. We will use this money to develop support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists. We also plan to request $75 million in supplemental funding for the year 2006 to support democracy in Iran. That money would enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public diplomacy efforts.

“In addition, I will be notifying that we plan to reprogram funds in 2007 to support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.”

Mostafa told us that the OIA was also involved in the mass protests in 2009, the so-called “Green Revolution”, that occurred after the election. The US hoped to replace hard line conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a more US-friendly leader. The protests were against the re-election of Ahmadinejad, which protesters claimed were based on fraud.

Mostafa explained why the current protests began outside of Tehran in smaller cities near the border, telling us that this made it easier to smuggle weapons and people into Iran to infiltrate in the protests. Groups using social media to promote the protests, like the MEK, now known as the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, have no support in Iran and primarily exist on social media. After the 1979 revolution, the MEK was involved in assassinations of Iranian officials, was labeled a terrorist organization and lost political support. While the western media made the 2018 protests look much bigger than they were, the reality is the protests had small numbers of 50, 100 or 200 people.

The protests began around economic issues due to rising prices and high unemployment. Mostafa discussed the impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy as making it harder to sell oil and invest in economic development. As other commentators have pointed out “. . . Washington blocked international clearing for every Iranian bank, froze $100 billion in Iranian assets overseas, and curtailed Tehran’s potential to export oil.  The consequence was a severe bout of inflation in Iran that debilitated the currency.” Mostafa said that in this new era  “tanks have been replaced by banks” in US foreign policy. He predicted that sanctions will build independence and self sufficiency in Iran as well as create new alliances with other countries, making the US less relevant.

Mostafa was concerned that infiltrators allied with outside powers were changing the messaging of the protest to suit their agenda. After a few days, the messages of the protests were against Iranian support for Palestinians, as well as people in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, which are not consistent with the views of the Iranian people. Mostafa says people in the Iran are proud their country supports revolutionary movements against imperialism and proud they were part of defeating the US and its allies in Syria.

The protests seemed to have died down and were dwarfed by much larger protests organized in support of the Iranian revolution. While the protests have finished, Mostafa does not think that the United States and its allies will stop trying to undermine the government. These protests may have served the purpose of giving the United States an excuse to pursue more sanctions. The US knows that a war with Iran would be impossible and regime change from within is the better strategy for changing the government, but is still unlikely. Mostafa sees significant differences between Iran and Syria and does not expect a Syrian scenario to occur in Iran. One major difference is that since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian people have been educated and organized against imperialism.

He warned to be careful who people in the US listen to as spokespersons for the Iranian people. He specifically mentioning the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the largest Iranian-American group. He claimed that NIAC was started by funding from Congress and some of its members had ties to government or regime change organizations. When we said we did not know that NIAC had received US government funding and that Trita Parsi, the executive director of NIAC, is a widely respected Iranian commentator (indeed, he recently appeared on Democracy Now and Real News Network), he said, “You should research it for yourself. I’m just alerting you.”

We researched NIAC and  found on NIAC’s website that they received money from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED is a private organization primarly funded by an annual allocation from US government and Wall Street interests and has been involved in US regime change operations in the Middle East and around the world. In their More Myths and Facts section NIAC acknowledges receiving funding from NED but claims that was different from the Bush administration’s democracy program, the Democracy Fund, designed for regime change. NIAC also says it does not receive funding from the US or Iranian governments on its site.

NIAC research director, Reza Marashi, mentioned by Mostafa, worked at the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs for four years prior to joining NIAC. And, field organizer Dornaz Memarzia, worked at Freedom House before joining NIAC, an organization also involved in US regime change operations, tied to the CIA and State Department. Trita Parsa has written award winning books on Iran and foreign policy and received his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced Economic Studies under Francis Fukuyama, the well known neocon and advocate for “free market” capitalism (we put free market in quotes because there has been no free market since modern economies have developed and because this is a marketing term describing transnational corporate capitalism).

Mostafa had two suggestions for US peace and justice movements. First, he urged US movements to work together because they need to be coordinated and unified to be effective. At Popular Resistance we call this creating a “movement of movements.”  Second, he urged activists to seek out information on Iran and share it because Iranians do not have a strong voice in the media and most reporting comes from US and western media sources.

We hope to bring you a variety of voices from Iran so that we can better understand what is happening in this pivotal country.

  • TecumsehUnfaced

    Funny! It was MI6 that deposed the Shah and put their veteran agent, Khomeini, in place. The Shah was shutting down the highly lucrative opium business, as well as getting very uppity. I guess the British didn’t bother to inform the Americans, who had put the Shah in power by coup for them and their Anglo-Iranian oil company, now BP.

  • AlanMacDonald

    I like your ironic humor, Kevin.

    This is what I just commented to the flack pro-war columnist. Bret Stephens on his column, “Finding the Way Forward in Iran” — the way forward (like Killary uses her phony forward image:



    Unfortunately (or unForwardly) the NYT closed comment quickly after my ‘Exposure’ of our former nation-state, being an Empire-state.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Hmmm–I don’t have your resources or worldview or experience, but I am convinced that, if one dug deep enough to cut to the chase, the evil claws of Zionism — starting with Netanyahu and AIPAC/its minions — are central to the lust to take out Iran. Netanyahu began his demented quest to remove Iran from the Mideast power equation in 1992 and has never ceased. You get the idea. I acknowledge that I am obsessed on Palestine and its need for truth, justice and liberation, but my 54 years of observation and vicarious suffering tell me that the Zioentity, the Mossad, the USrael “entangling alliance” that is manifested in Occupied WashDC, AIPAC, the Zionist think tanks, the ZioMSM, the Adelman/Saban billionaire cabal et al must be confronted and controlled in the core geopolitical interests of the US, Palestine and the world. (Indeed, deceptions and distractions such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran…serve to manipulate the hegemony-driven chess game and always leave the Palestinians on the back burner and closer to the Zionist goal of exterminaton-cum-Eretz Israel.)

    I am accordingly disappointed with this otherwise worthy analysis.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Point taken, Tecumseh. But I was in Dammam, KSA, and its environs in 1976-7 (contract with the US Army Corps of Engineers; not one of the finer or prouder moments of my life). I spent at lot of logistics-oriented time at the major seaport there; the previous port of call for cargo vessels was generally Bandar Abbas, diagonally up and across the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Ships’ mates and seamen would tell me (in the latter half of 1977 in particular) that they had just seen, on the streets of Bandar Abbas, long lines of ordinary Iranis weaving and chanting against the Shah, flagellating their backs with chains, and otherwise working themselves up to the overthrow of 1979. So my belief is that it was primarily the people of Iran, driven by the awful repression of the Shah and his savage Savak, who — on the ground — “deposed the Shah.”

  • TecumsehUnfaced

    I don’t doubt that at all. The autocratic Shah and his SAVAK certainly did generate a lot of anger and antagonism.

    “The Shah systematically dismantled the judicial system of Iran and the country’s guarantees of personal and social liberties. …. Nearly every source of creative, artistic and intellectual endeavor in our culture was suppressed.

    The SAVAK conducted most of the torture, under the friendly guidance of the CIA which set up SAVAK in 1957 and taught them how to interrogate suspects. Amnesty International reports methods of torture that included “whipping and beating, electric shocks, extraction of teeth and nails, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a metal table heated to a white heat, inserting a broken bottle into the anus, and rape.”…

    The Shah greatly expanded the military and turned it against his own people. With newfound oil wealth the Shah bought $2C million of U.S. arms. The U.S. military trained Iranian officers. Despite claims that a strong army was needed to prevent external aggression, its real purpose became clear when the army murdered more than 50,000 Iranians fighting the Shah.” …. The number of students tortured, lost or murdered is unknown.”

    (“Life Under the Shah“, The Harvard Crimson)

    But it was the MI6-supported Khomeini that provided the catalysis that precipitated the massive demonstrations that brought the Shah down. If the Shah had never interfered with the opium trade, his son might be ruling there now.

    However, it appears that I remembered wrong when I said that the CIA was not in on the deal.

    However, there is evidence that the CIA and MI6 toppled the Shah because he had become too much of a nationalist, like Nasser, and was not following instructions on oil or even opium.

    Allegedly, the CIA did not want left-wing democrats taking over from the Shah as they might not be easy to control. So, reportedly, the CIA allowed the Ayatollahs to take over.

    Radio Free Iran claimed that while at Qom, the Ayatollah Khomeini received a “monthly stipend from the British, and he is in constant contact with his masters, the British.”
    The British, Muslim Terrorism and September 11

    On 19 January 1980, the International Herald Tribune reported that the Shah had said, two years before he was overthrown, that he had heard from two different sources connected with oil companies that the regime in Iran would change.

    ‘We believe that there was a plan to ensure less oil was offered to the world markets in order to bring about a price,’ said the Shah. ‘One country was to be chosen for the sacrifice… It seems that the country chosen to drop its oil production was mine.’
    webgardian: Shah:Oil Companies Helped to Oust Him

    The Shah’s nationalist policies were making him more popular in Iran and making his country more independent and more powerful. This worried the CIA and MI6.

    1. The Shah bought land from the upper classes and, along with the crown’s own land, sold it back cheaply to tenant farmers. Over one a half million people to became land owners, thus ending the old feudal system.

    2.The Shah allowed women the right to vote. He brought an end to the wearing of the veil.

    3. He developed plans for a $90 billion nuclear power program.

    4. The Shah signed petroleum agreements with ENI, the Italian oil company.

    5. He began to close down the opium industry. This had been created during the days of British influence.

    ‘Former intelligence officer’ Dr John Coleman considers opium to be of prime importance in the toppling of the Shah (Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Story of the Committee of 300 – 6). Dr Coleman is sometimes described as being a conspiracy theorist.


    Your reports of

    ” long lines of ordinary Iranis weaving and chanting against the Shah, flagellating their backs with chains

    suggests to me that those protests might have been because of

    “2.The Shah allowed women the right to vote. He brought an end to the wearing of the veil”

    I don’t know. What do you think?

  • TecumsehUnfaced

    Real good! Except that I think that you need to dig down to crime syndicate ruling all of the above from underneath.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    My unschooled and scattershot mind recalls that, in the mid-1980s, California in particular and surely WashDC was infested with Shah royalists who had fled Iran and hoped to get the Shah back on his throne. I suspect a lot of “news” reports of that time were skewed by royalist propaganda and disinformation. Have you read Stephen Kinzer’s “All The Shah’s Men”? I think it was published circa 2006; I have misplaced my copy (think I gave it away at a university polysci/anthropological panel on which I sat). A spare and eminently readable book, it had to me the air of truth, and I don’t recall any good words about the Shah. Today, I did a brief search on Irani women’s voting rights, and it appears that the Shah was simply following the lead of his father and perhaps even his grandfather. Had Mossadegh been allowed to establish his democracy, I imagine women’s rights and other societal advances would have proceeded apace. Opium?–I’m not up at all in that realm; think Afghanistan was awash in poppy fields in those days. Khomeini?–news to me that he was a Western-intelligence asset; wasn’t he in ascetic-lifestyle exile in France in the 1960s-’70s?

  • TecumsehUnfaced

    Please, I’m certainly not arguing against Mossadegh. He would have been much better for Iran than the Shah. Kinzer isn’t the only one that makes that clear.

    This is what I got on women’s voting rights in Iran.

    50 years ago, in 1963, Iranian women secured the right to vote. Fahimeh Farsaei looks back at five decades of progress and setbacks for the women’s movement there.


    I can understand your antipathy toward the Shah. I hold similarly, but please don’t assume that he was evil in every way. He was a brutal autocrat, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t want a better nation chained up in front of him. Let the man have the little credit that he probably deserved. He stank! Maybe even as badly as a Churchill.

    I’m sure that Khomeini felt that he was using the British far more than they were using him. He was using them to vault himself past other clerics and the liberal democrats into power.

    The main slogans of the 1979 revolution were esteghlal
    (independence) and azadi (liberty). The demand for an Islamic republic came late and only after Khomeini and his followers succeeded in gaining the leadership of the anti-shah movement
    from the secular liberal democrats.


    From this it appears that Khomeini’s faction stole a revolution already in progress similarly to Lenin and his Bolsheviks. Revolution getting stolen seems to be a rather common occurrence.

    Still, I might not be completely wrong about Khomeini’s religious faction crystalizing some part of the revolution, the religious part.

  • Robert H. Stiver


  • TecumsehUnfaced

    You’re welcome! It’s enjoyable discussing stuff like this with you.

  • kevinzeese

    When our guest said the “United States” he told us he mean the US and its allies which would include countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, among others.

  • Helga Fellay

    Are Long-Term US Regime Change Efforts Behind Iran Protests? Duh. Is the pope catholic? Do bears shit in the woods?

  • Helga Fellay

    It is best for writers not to ASSUME that the reader knows what he means, but rather to be specific. At least add “and its allies”. Not everything that can be said about the US applies to its allies, or to all of its allies.

  • gininitaly

    Thank you for that interview, very illuminating.