The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, placing Iran in a squeeze. The Germans wanted to use the country as a base against the Soviet Union, while the Allies needed Iran as a supply route to the Soviets.
On August 25, 1941, after Reza Shah refused to dislodge the Germans, 40,000 Russian troops entered Iran from the north while 19,000 British troops “entered from the south to protect the oil fields of Ahwaz and the refinery at Abadan, the largest in the world.”
In September, under Allied pressure, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza. By this time, Iran was once again divided into three zones with Soviet troops occupying the north and the British holding firm in the south.
In January 1942, in the wake of a Kurdish rebellion, the Iranian government turned to the US for assistance, requesting that an American specialist take charge of Iran’s 20,000 strong rural police/paramilitary force, the gendarmerie.
According to Thomas M. Ricks, a formal agreement in November 1943 established a Gendarmerie Military Mission (GENMISH)
to advise and assist the Ministry of the Interior in the reorganization of the Imperial Iranian Gendarmerie with the U.S. officers maintaining precedence over all Iranian Gendarmerie officers of the same rank.
In 1942, also, the Iranian government asked for an American financial team to assist with the uncertain economic situation. The group was headed by Dr. A. C. Millspaugh who had previously served as a financial adviser in Iran from 1922-1927.
Millspaugh’s extensive control over Iran’s economy was
clarified by the so-called Full Powers Law. His purview included finances, banking, government industry, commerce, and emergency wartime controls.
Efforts at reform centered on the black market, the need for a progressive income tax, and the elimination of Majles control over public works programs. Millspaugh’s attempts elicited strong disapproval from those who would suffer financially or who believed that he was an agent of the United States. Moreover, he failed to cope with high prices or industrial inefficiency.
The staffing of the two advisory teams required a continuing influx of American specialists. Their involvement meant that, although the Soviet Union and Great Britain had initially penetrated Iran, American influence would soon be dominant. Moreover, American officials believed that military missions, in particular, were critical to postwar US foreign policy.
Secretary of State Byrnes wrote:
Continuance of the military missions to Iran, at the request of the Iranian government, is considered to be in the national interest of the United States. Strengthening of Iran’s internal security forces by the American Missions contributes to the stabilization of Iran and, thereby, to its reconstruction as a sound member of the international community. By increasing the ability of the Iranian Government to maintain order and security, it is hoped to remove any pretext for British or Soviet intervention in Iran’s internal affairs….The stabilization of Iran, moreover, will serve to lay a sound foundation for the development of American commercial, petroleum, and aviation interests in the Middle East.
There is also evidence that
Roosevelt thought of Iran as something of a clinic for his postwar policies, one aspect of which was to develop and stabilize backward areas. If the American pattern of self-government and free enterprise could prevail in Iran . . . . it could serve as a model for the relations of the United States with all nations suffering from monopolies, aggression, and imperialism.
Photograph by Lisa Reynolds Wolfe.