Iraq, Kuwait on brink of New War
In a provocative move, the Kuwaiti government has recently announced that it will soon commence the construction operation of a large oil terminal in the Bubiyan Island.
Iraq has claimed that the construction of this oil terminal is tantamount to the violation of Baghdad’s maritime rights and has called on the Kuwaiti government to halt the operation.
Kuwait’s Bubiyan Island is located at the northernmost spot of the Persian Gulf and is situated at the junction of the Iraqi al-Faw Island and the Persian Gulf.
Considering that al-Faw is Iraq’s only access point to the Persian Gulf, the construction of this oil terminal by Kuwait would complicate Iraq’s access to the coast of the Persian Gulf.
Kuwait intends to expand its sea coast to a radius of 500 kilometers, whereas Iraq’s coastal borders would be reduced to 50 kilometers after the construction of the terminal.
The oil from Iraq’s southern region is usually exported in tankers through the al-Faw port in the northwest coast of the Persian Gulf.
Iraq has promptly reacted to the Kuwaiti move and the two countries have gone so far as to level accusations at and threaten each other.
The construction expenditure of the terminal has been estimated at more than USD 6 billion; and through constructing it, Kuwait intends to levy a tax on Iraqi ships arriving at the shores of al-Faw through the Khor Abdullah estuary.
During Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Iraq planned to build a large oil terminal called the Al-Faw Grand Port in the al-Faw destrict to the south of Basra and on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
At the time, the Kuwaiti regime considered the move a violation of its sea space, and the rift between the two countries began.
The longstanding historical and geographical disputes between the two countries during the last 50 years have always cast a blurry and gloomy cloud over the relations of the two neighboring Arab countries.
Differences in religious beliefs and a vast discrepancy in income levels have led to a marked divergence between the citizens of Basra and the Kuwaiti people. The people of Basra and Kuwait, who used to live side by side prior to 1961, have today morphed into two antagonistic neighbors.
Kuwait, that was considered part of the Iraqi territory and a section of the Shia-populated province of Basra prior to 1961, was separated from Iraq by Britain.
Kuwait unilaterally declared its independence from Iraq in July 19, 1961, a move opposed by Abd al-Karim Qasim, the then Iraqi prime minister.
With the aid of the regime of Saudi Arabia and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the pan-Arab president of Egypt, Kuwait immediately became a member of the United Nations and the Arab League.
The reason behind the separation of Kuwait from Iraq was the ideological gap between the northern and southern inhabitants of the province of Basra and the discovery of vast oil and gas fields in Kuwait.
The northern residents of Basra were Shias, whereas the dwellers of Basra’s southernmost region, today’s Kuwait, were Wahhabis.
The existence of vast oil fields in Kuwait caused the British government to set the stage for the separation of Kuwait from Iraq.
After the disintegration of Kuwait, the historical differences between Kuwait and Iraq that had been rooted in the Shia-Wahhabi dichotomy, turned into geographical difference.
A week after the independence of Kuwait from Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim threatened to retake Kuwait by using military force.
Abd al-Karim Qasim’s threat met with the violent reaction of Gamal Abdel Nasser since Abdel Nasser opposed Ghasem on the grounds that Ghasem was a Shia.
Since then, Iraq and Kuwait have never succeeded in reaching a consensus on marking their common land and sea borders.
The political and geographical conflicts between Iraq and Kuwait reached a peak in 1990 and Saddam Hussein entirely occupied Kuwait in less than 48 hours after launching an offensive on the country.
After 8 months, international forces led by the United States liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in a full-scale offensive on Saddam’s forces.
After the fall of Saddam’s regime in March 2003 and the formation of the new Iraqi government, Kuwait’s relations with Iraq’s new government started to improve.
Nonetheless, hidden disputes between the two the countries continued, especially since Kuwait always sought to exact revenge on the Iraqi nation.
Kuwait’s recent plan for the expansion of its oil terminals in the northwest of the Persian Gulf and within the sea boundaries of Iraq once again brought to light the secret disputes between the two countries.
Kuwait is using Iraq’s unstable conditions and insecurity to take revenge and achieve its own expansionist objectives.
The construction of the terminal has incited a wave of resentment and anger between the Shia-populated province of Basra and the Sunni people of Kuwait, and set the stage for a conflict between the two countries.
Kuwait, which has a humiliating outlook of the new Iraqi government and the Iraqi nation, is backed by the United States to take advantage of the instability in Iraq to deprive the country of its access to the Persian Gulf.
Kuwait’s membership in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and the presence of numerous U.S. bases in this country has given the Kuwaiti government the confidence to think that they can win concessions from Iraq.
On the other hand, the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Almaleki, under pressure from the people of the Basra Province, cannot remain indifferent to the provocative moves of the Kuwaiti government.
Thus, should the Kuwaiti government decide to implement the Mubarak Terminal Project in the Bubiyan Island, a conflict between the two countries seems inevitable in the future.
Even though the Iraqi army will not be able to once again occupy Kuwait in 48 hours under the current circumstances, the heightening tension between the two countries will lead to long-term border disputes between the border guards of the two countries.