Waterway stand-off revives Iraq-Kuwait border dispute
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.