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Thursday, May 23, 2024

How the Shah of Iran eliminated his dissidents

The once-venerated Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had fled Iran in January 1979 in the face of an uprising on the streets, after a reign of 37 years in which he dreamt of making his country the fifth world power by 2000.

Teymur Bakhtiar was born in 1914 to Sardar Moazzam Bakhtiari, a chieftain of the eminent Bakhtiari tribe of Iran. Educated at a French school in Beirut, Teymur rose to become a general in the Imperial Iranian Army. Bakhtiar became head of the Shah of Iran’s intelligence and security service SAVAK in February 1956. He became notorious for ruthlessly crushing any opposition to the Shah’s regime, Under General Bakhtiar, SAVAK turned into an effective instrument of brutality and coercion against the anti-monarchist groups.

In May 1961, Iran’s Prime Minister Jafar Sharif Emami was forced to resign  due to  demonstrations against large-scale rigging in the elections to the Shah’s rubber-stamp parliament., Teymur Bakhtiar aspired to become the new Prime Minister. However, the Shah wanted Ali Amini as his next Prime Minister. General Bakhtiar then contacted the US Embassy to enlist their support for a “coup” against Amini. A surprised American ambassador informed the Shah about Bakhtiar’s plans. Soon thereafter, Bakhtiar was removed from his post as head of SAVAK and exiled.

Read more: Iran taunts US on anniversary of Shah’s ouster

Understanding the matter better

In 1968, Bakhtiar arrived in Lebanon and was arrested in May for “arms smuggling”, ostensibly at the behest of the Shah. Thereafter, Iran coerced the Lebanese authorities to repatriate  Bakhtiar to Iran on charges of high treason. But Bakhtiar managed to get out of Lebanon and immigrated to Iraq. In 1969, the Iranian parliament passed a law under which Teymur Bakhtiar was deprived of all military ranks, and all his movable and immovable property were confiscated.

In Iraq, Bakhtiar not only met Ayatollah Khomeini but also other Iranian dissidents who were living in exile there.

On 12 August 1970, during a hunting party, Bakhtiar was shot and killed by an Iranian Savak agent, feigning to be a sympathizer. As a cover for the plot, the assassin, and a colleague had hijacked an Iranian passenger plane, forcing it to land in Baghdad. Disguised as dissidents of the Iranian government, the two assassins duped the Iraqi regime and gained access to Teymur Bakhtiar and his entourage. The truth behind these circumstances emerged only years later. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi himself was quoted as claiming the assassination was a personal success.

There was only one assassin. Once out hunting in the field, the assassin fired a shot at him with a pistol, hitting him in the shoulder, thus making Bakhtiar drop his rifle. Immediately, Bakhtiar’s Iraqi bodyguard attempted to shoot the assassin with an AK-47 but was shot in the forehead first. The general reached for his revolver with his left hand, but was shot 5 times in the torso and left hand by the assassin. Bakhtiar was taken to hospital and underwent surgery, but died shortly thereafter from massive internal bleeding.

Read more: Iranian-American Robin Shahini ‘sentenced for spying’

The assassin quickly left the scene, heading towards the Iranian border. He passed out several kilometers before reaching the border crossing, due to the heat. He was captured by an Iraqi border patrol and taken to Baghdad alive. His fate remains unknown. It is also not known where he obtained his small-arms training as well as the pistol used. The killing of Bakhtiar was filmed by SAVAK and shown on Iranian TV. The act was aimed at striking terror among the Shah’s dissidents.

How the Shah and his last Prime Minister met their end?

Amir-Abbas Hoveyda was an Iranian economist and politician who served as the Shah’s Prime Minister from 27 January 1965 to 7 August 1977. He was the longest-serving prime minister in Iran’s history. After Khomenei’s revolution, Hoveida was tried by the newly established Revolutionary Court for “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on earth” and executed by a firing squad. The 59‐year‐old politician was shot on 7 April 1979, barely 15 minutes after his secret trial by an Islamic revolutionary court had ended with a death sentence. His bullet‐riddled body fell to the ground inside the jail in northeast Teheran, where some 1,300 political and military figures from the Shah’s fallen regime awaited trial by revolutionary courts.

Read more: Iran security forces ‘open fire’ as thousands mourn Mahsa Amini

On July 27, 1980, the deposed  Shah of Iran died of cancer while in exile in Cairo, 17 months after being driven out by his country’s Islamic Revolution. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, his last remaining ally, arranged a state funeral for the former monarch. Dumped by Iranians and America. The once-venerated Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had fled Iran in January 1979 in the face of an uprising on the streets, after a reign of 37 years in which he dreamt of making his country the fifth world power by 2000. His exile opened the way for the triumphant return from France on February 1, 1979, of Ayatollah  Khomeini and the establishment of an Islamic republic.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.