The Case against Hamid Jafar and Crescent Petroleum in Iraqi Kurdistan
In early 1988, something terrible was happening in the mountains of northern Iraq. In the Chamchamal area, where a 12-year-old Kurdish boy, Taymour, lived in a village with his parents and three young sisters, the Anfal campaign against Iraqi Kurds was gathering pace. In the second week of April, Taymour’s father was taken away by Iraqi soldiers never to be seen again. “Anfal” was the name given to a concerted series of military offensives carried out against Iraq’s Kurdish population from March 1987 to April 1989.
Around the same time, Saddam Hussein’s regime was on the verge of bankruptcy after 8 years of war with Iran. Iraq’s coffers were depleted, but Saddam still had a huge source of wealth to draw from: oil. Saddam ordered his loyal lieutenants such as his son-in-law Hussein Kamel to find individuals and companies that could obtain assets in the West in return for Iraqi crude. At the time the western countries including the US, the UK, France and Germany had cordial relations with Saddam.
One of the men entrusted with the task was Hamid Dhia Jafar, a 41-year-old Iraqi oil man educated at Cambridge University and resident in Abu Dhabi. Hamid Jafar, the head of Crescent Petroleum, was a trustworthy figure for the Iraqi Baathist regime where “family ties, ruthlessness and loyalty count above all else.”
His brother, Jafar Jafar, was a leading figure in Iraq’s atomic energy agency and a senior deputy to the minister for Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI), General Hussein Kamel, who was Saddam’s son-in-law.
In a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, Hussein Kamel is described as “efficiently managing some of Iraq’s most important government programs, from the building of Hussein’s deadly arsenal of missiles and chemical weapons to the crushing of this winter’s [Kurdish] rebellions against Baghdad’s power. Through deception, violations of international law, the spending of exorbitant sums and pure guile, Kamel created front companies abroad to secretly buy military parts that Baghdad was barred from acquiring legally. At home, he put together the factories and laboratories that assembled the Arab world’s most sophisticated arms industry.”
Meanwhile, following the gassing of 5000 Kurds in the town of Halabja, Iraqi soldiers began rounding up thousands of other Iraqi Kurds including Taymour’s family, transporting them in convoys of packed vehicles to mass execution and burial sites in southern Iraq, where each vehicle ‘was neatly positioned next to its own burial pit.’ The guards shoved the prisoners roughly over the edge, and in the panic and confusion Taymour was separated from his mother and sisters. Almost at once, an officer and a soldier opened fire with their Kalashnikovs. Taymour was hit in the left shoulder.
Despite the pain, he staggered towards the soldier who had shot him, recalling seeing tears in the man’s eyes. But as Taymour tried to climb out of the pit, the officer barked out an order in Arabic, and the soldier fired again. This second bullet caught Taymour on the right side of his back, just above the waist. This time he lay still. Apparently satisfied, the soldiers walked away. Taymour clambered onto the hard-packed mound of dirt behind the grave”. He managed to stumble away and survived to reveal what happened during the campaign that came to be known as Anfal.
From 1988 to 2003 when the US-led coalition forces toppled Saddam regime, Hamid Jafar developed ‘intimate relations’ with the Iraqi Baathist government. Mr Jafar became so close to Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law, that he ordered a golden Swiss pistol worth £7,000 as a gift for him in 1990.
However, in 2007 the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) invited Hamid Jafar to invest in Kurdistan and signed an ‘strategic alliance protocol‘ with him. Furthermore, in 2009 he was appointed as an adviser to the KRG. It is not clear whether the KRG and minister of natural resources Dr Ashti Hawrami knew about Hamid Jafar’s past. But given that Mr Hawrami has worked in the oil sector since the mid 1970s including in Iraq and the UK, it is safe to assume that he may have known something about Hamid Jafar’s dealings with Saddam Hussein.
By June this year, Crescent Petroleum Group had become the biggest private investor in Iraqi Kurdistan oil and gas sector with over one billion dollars investment.
The story of Hamid Jafar:
Hamid Jafar was born in 1947 in Baghdad in a secular Shiite family. His father Dhia was finance minister to King Faisal II. In 1958 whilst on a trip to London, Dhia Jafar learned of the coup against the government in Baghdad that ended the rule of the royal family installed by the British. Dhia stayed in London and his sons Hamid and Jafar went to some of the best schools and universities in the UK. Hamid Jafar went on to receive his masters degree in physics in 1967 and became an adviser to the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
In 1985, Hamid Jafar bought Crescent Petroleum.
According to a profile of the company in the Kurdistan Oil and Gas Year 2012, which was published in partnership with the KRG, Crescent was working closely with Iraq ministry of oil in the late 1980s providing training for the employees of the oil ministry.
But Hamid Jafar’s relations with the Saddam regime went far beyond providing training for the oil ministry.
In 1989, Hamid Jafar agreed to acquire oil and gas facilities in the West for Saddam’s regime, and negotiated a deal with the Petrofina Company to buy 3000 petrol stations in the US. In the same year, Hamid Jafar signed another contract with the ministry of military industrialization to buy an aluminum factory to be set up in Nasiriyah. Years later when the UN inspectors went into Iraq, they found out that aluminum from the factory was used in the Iraqi nuclear program.
Kenneth Timmerman, author of “The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq” states in a report prepared for the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights on 29 June 1993:” While Crescent may not have been in the business of arms manufacturing or procurement per se, it was certainly linked to the principal Iraqi government organization that was.”
Hamid Jafar used every possible effort to hide his collaboration with Saddam’s regime while benefiting enormously from these deals. He paid thousands of dollars to his lawyers (Clifford Chance) and public relations firms (Lowe Bell Consultants) in London to intimidate journalists and newspapers threatening them with costly legal battles to dissuade them from writing about his cosy relations with Saddam.
On one occasion, Hamid Jafar took Alan George, a freelance journalist from the Observer weekly, to court in 1992 over a critical piece the journalist had written. The editor of the Observer apologised and paid £5000 to a charity chosen by Jafar, leaving the freelance journalist to fight the costly court battle on his own.
But Alan George won the case brought against him in the British high court, and Hamid Jafar was forced to pay the journalist’s legal costs. The court case hinged on one issue: Alan George had written that the commercial deals between Hamid Jafar and Saddam Hussein meant that Crescent had ‘intimate relations’ with Saddam. Hamid Jafar claimed that by writing this, Alan George had suggested that Crescent Petroleum was either a front company, or controlled by Saddam Hussein. The judge disagreed with Hamid Jafar’s lawyers and threw out the case, saying only someone ‘avid for scandal’ would read that into Alan George’s piece. Justice Drake concluded that, in his view, relations between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Hamid Jafar, the owner of Crescent Petroleum, were indeed of an ‘intimate’ nature.
Three British parliamentarians were so outraged by Crescent Petroleum’s behaviour that they signed a motion supporting the journalist and reiterating that Hamid Jafar had ‘intimate relations‘ with Saddam. Robin Cook, then shadow Labour minister and later foreign minister in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet expressed his ‘astonishment’ that the British government had not investigated Hamid Jafar for his relations with the head of Iraq atomic agency. (The Guardian, 10 March 1993)
At one time in 1992, Crescent Petroleum was the subject of three investigation by the US Treasury and three Congressional committees – Foreign Relations, Banking, and Ways and Means – to see if Crescent was a front company for Saddam. He continued his work unhindered throughout the 1980s, making millions of dollars in the process.
In 2007, less than 20 years after the Halabja massacre and Anfal Genocide, the Kurdistan Regional Government unashamedly invited Hamid Jafar and his Crescent Petroleum back to invest in the northern enclave’s oil and gas sector. To make matters worse, the KRG allowed Crescent Petroleum to invest in oil and gas fields in Khor Mor and Chamchamal, one of the areas worst affected by the genocidal Anfal campaign. Taymour’s family was from Chamchamal.
To add insult to injury, the Kurdistan Regional Government appointed Hamid Jafar as an adviser in 2009, according to a State Department cable released by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.
Hamid Jafar has also helped his brother Jafar to get back on his feet. Jafar Jafar now heads Dubai based Uruk Group which has two Crescent affiliates, Uruk Engineering and Contracting and Uruk Project Development, providing oilfield services and building power stations and fertiliser plants in the rest of Iraq.
Hamid Jafar’s businesses in Iraqi Kurdistan also include Dana Gas, which is operating under the umbrella of Pearl Petroleum.
Thanks to the KRG, the Dhia Jafar dynasty are making millions of dollars in Kurdistan’s Chamchamal oilfield, where the victims of the Anfal campaign are still suffering from the psychological trauma of the genocidal policies of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which were financially assisted by people like Hamid Jafar.
The Ministry of Natural Resources was contacted for their response to this story but their communication adviser replied in an email saying “We have no comment regarding this matter.”
The Kurdish version of this article was published in Hawlati newspaper and can be accessed here
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