The story of how Farouk al-Kasim, an Iraqi oil engineer, seeking refuge out of his country’s internal turmoil, ended up rescuing the whole Norwegian nation from their resource curse, the ‘Dutch disease’. Read the full article on Financial Times.
In 1952, the Iraq Petroleum Company had reluctantly agreed to train young Iraqis to work alongside its colonial-era masters. It would sponsor batches of Iraqi students to study abroad with the promise of a job afterwards. At only 16, the precocious al-Kasim was selected for the first intake and sent to study petroleum geology at Imperial College London. He returned to Iraq in 1957 – by then married to Solfrid, who had been working in London as an au pair.
Once home, al-Kasim started his working life at the company. Half a century later, eyes shining with glee, he recalls the first time he entered the oil executives’ club in Basra. “I walked across the room, straight up to the bar, where I sat down and ordered a drink. Then I turned around and looked back at all the British managers with their wives, who were staring at me in silence. It was the first time they had seen an Iraqi enter the club, except as a servant.”
But the company could reassure itself that he was no radical anti-imperialist. “I’m a mild man … I got the impression that I fitted in their scheme as a balanced person who will take over management at one time, and treat IPC fairly.” When he left at 31, he was number five at the company and its highest-ranking Iraqi.
Al-Kasim and his family wouldn’t have left Iraq but for their son’s medical problems, but even so, the move was politically sensitive. In the past, he’d been stopped at the border on orders from the secret police, who considered him a key figure for any future nationalisation of the oil industry. Now it took months to secure permission to take his son for what they had to pretend would be short-term medical treatment abroad. “It was a smuggling operation … we were only trying to save the life of our youngest child. But in Iraq, these things don’t matter.”