Waterway stand-off revives Iraq-Kuwait border dispute

Dispute threatens to unstitch progress made in Iraqi-Kuwaiti re­lations since fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Protesters chanting slogans against demarcation of border agreement with Kuwait


2017/02/12 Issue: 93 Page: 1


The Arab Weekly
Nazli Tarzi



London - A long-dormant dispute over the narrow water­way that separates Iraq and Kuwait has resur­faced, reviving a disa­greement that dates to before Iraq’s 1990 invasion of its neighbour.

Political tensions over the Khor Abdullah estuary came to a head during an Iraqi parliamentary ses­sion, in which lawmakers assailed the state over territory ceded to Kuwait.

Two years after Iraq accepted a UN-sponsored ceasefire, a com­mission was appointed by the UN Security Council to demarcate the border between the warring coun­tries.

Describing the commission’s re­sponsibility, Iraq’s former Trans­port minister Amer Abd al-Jabbar, in a leaked interview, said “this was the first time in Security Coun­cil history that borders were re­drawn”.

He questioned why Kuwait, be­tween the time the commission was set up in 1993 and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, “sat back without implementing the terms stipulated under Resolution 833”.

The frontier the document sets out is yet to be enforced.

The handover of the waterway has been upheld by Iraq as a de­layed implementation of the terms of Resolution 833 and the 2013 maritime navigation deal signed by Hadi al-Ameri, Iraq’s minister of Transport at the time and Salem Mthieb al-Uthaina, Kuwait’s minis­ter of Communication.

Although the deal was struck under former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, it is the current govern­ment that has to deal with the con­sequences.

Questioning the reliability of the resolution, Jabbar and others argued the United Nations does not have jurisdiction to decide the fate of the waterway. Jabbar called for either the postponement of the implementation of any deal grant­ing Kuwait rights over what he said was Iraq’s side of the waterway or its outright abrogation.

Unusually, Iraqis of all political and sectarian stripes united in op­position to the government deci­sion.

“The people of Iraq’s principal port town of Basra will be most af­fected,” Iraqi activist Durgham Zaidi said in a telephone interview.

Large demonstrations took place in Basra where protesters held plac­ards reading “Khor Abdullah is and will remain part of Iraq’s territory”. Online videos show local tribes in Basra mobilising on the border.

Activists in Basra have been lob­bying local council members to postpone or abrogate the agreement reached under Maliki’s tenure.

Kuwaiti officials said they were to meet to discuss the “usual Iraqi provocations”, the Kuwait Times reported. Kuwaiti MP Saleh Ashour called for “an operation to track anti-Kuwait developments in Iraq”.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi has made the position of his government clear: Without consent from Kuwait, the deal cannot be overturned.

The stand-off is similar to dis­putes in 2011 that involved the con­struction of dams in the surround­ing waters of Khor Abdullah by both countries. Iraq said Kuwait’s Mubarak dam would result in the slow strangulation of Iraq’s waters.

The dispute is unlikely to be re­solved soon and poses risks for both countries. It threatens to unstitch progress made in Iraqi-Kuwaiti re­lations since the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein following the 2003 US-led invasion.


Nazli Tarzi is an independent journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and contemporary political scene.


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