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IRAN: Darkness in Abadan

4 minute read

Above the forest of silvered smokestacks that mark Anglo-Iranian’s huge oil refinery at Abadan soar five towering gas pipes. For years flaming pillars of gas have jetted from these pipes, casting a ruddy glow on the night sky. But last week the night sky over Abadan was black. All but a handful of the 3,500 British oilmen who had tended the fires lovingly (and profitably) since they first flamed aloft had gone home. Darkness closed in along the neat cement walks separating the rows of bungalows where they had lived. The only sounds in the deserted town were the echo of Iranian sentries’ boots and the whimper of an abandoned dog sniffing vainly for the scent of his British master.

“A Good Thing We’re Going.” Angry, bitter and resentful at the Iranian and the British governments both, the last garrison of 322 British technicians left on the British cruiser Mauritius, after a night at the local Gymkhana Club and the Guest House Bar, when they made a manful effort to polish off a three-month supply of whisky in one glorious but decorous gulp. Even Vera (“Hard-Hearted Hannah”) Flavell, the penny-pinching proprietress of the Guest House, had proclaimed drinks on the house. By the time the evacuees arrived at the Gymkhana Club once again for customs inspection at 8 a.m., they were too hungover to care any more. “We’ve done a good job here, and it’s hard to leave,” said one, “but few people have ever been called upon to put up with such intolerable conditions. It’s a good thing we’re going.” The triumphant Iranians were careful not to delay their departure by a single minute. Not a suitcase was opened during the inspection and passports were merely glanced at.

At the end of the jetty where Iranian navy launches waited to take them to the Mauritius, the oilmen filed solemnly past Refinery Director Kenneth B. Ross, who was flying out next day. As each man passed, the director shook his hand. “Good luck, K.B.,” the men murmured. Some 2,000 Iranians, many of them former company employees, watched in silence. Once on the cruiser, the fed-up oilmen wasted scarcely a look back at the vast $700 million refinery, the world’s largest, that had been their life and their work.

On the green lawn of his waterfront home near the refinery, K.B. waved one more goodbye to his boys, a glass of Scotch held firmly in his hand as the ship steamed by. “Mossadeq,” he said bitterly, “has not only dug Persia’s grave, but he’s thrown the Iranians into it.”

On to the Hospital. If this was true, Mossadeq and his people seemed willing to take the risks. On the eve of his departure for New York, the emotional Premier faced a cheering Majlis and—collapsing into sobs—announced his plan for dealing with the British at U.N. “It was to serve world peace that we took this historical step,” he proclaimed. In a final burst of tears and cheers, he stumbled to his seat and collapsed. At week’s end, having bypassed Manhattan’s great hotels and reserved a suite for himself at New York Hospital, the Premier emplaned for the U.S. to carry on the fight.

As soon as he was in the air, his cabinet began telling the Iranians the price of their proud action. Oil, which gives the British company’s stockholders* a fine 30% dividend every year, also pays most of the costs of running the Iranian government. Now that it is shut off, the cabinet announced, all Government departments will have their appropriations slashed 15%, all government automobiles, “except those of a few ministers and deputy ministers,” will be auctioned, all buildings and road projects under way will be stopped. Iran, like the Britain it fights with, is in for a taste of austerity.

* Chief stockholder: the British government.

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