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Kuwait-Iraq tensions still simmer over port DinarDailyUpdates?bg=330099&fg=FFFFFF&anim=1

Kuwait-Iraq tensions still simmer over port

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Kuwait-Iraq tensions still simmer over port Empty Kuwait-Iraq tensions still simmer over port

Post by lexie Tue Oct 04, 2011 8:48 am

04 Oct 2011

Kuwait-Iraq tensions still simmer over port

KUWAIT: Tensions arising from the $1.1 billion Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port project appeared to intensify again this week, dampening the rapprochement that followed the visit of the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. In a renewal of opposition to the project, Iraqi MPs accused Kuwait of offering 'gifts' and bribes to senior politicians in return for their support. At the same time, Iraqi media has linked a decision to limit trade at the Safwan-Abdali crossing with the political controversy surrounding the port.

There has been growing opposition inside Iraq to the Mubarak project since work began there in mid -May, prompted by fears that it will eclipse their own $6 billion port, planned to be built on the nearby Faw peninsula. Both projects aim to become major regional hubs, able to compete with the Suez Canal as the point of transit for Asian-European trade.

In June, official opposition to the project took a dangerous turn when the Iraqi wing of Hezbollah threatened to target both Kuwait and the port unless work ceased. Following this, on Aug 26, three Katyusha missiles were fired at Boubyan Island, where the port is being built.

Tensions eased after Zebari, commenting on the favorable findings of a team of technical experts, told AP that the port "won't affect our navigation...and our fears have been removed." It was reported that the team had negotiated a reduction in projected capacity at the port and that all sides were satisfied that international law was being observed. Following this, the GCC affirmed its support for the construction of the port.

The dispute was reignited this week, however, after Iraqi MPs accused Kuwait of giving cash and 'gifts' to Iraqi politicians in return for their support of project, prompting a denial by Mohammad Al-Busairi, Minister of Oil, Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs and Acting Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. One Iraqi MP, Alia Nassif, a prominent critic of the Mubarak port, went so far as to accuse Kuwaiti intelligence officials of involvement in an assassination attempt on her husband.

More serious than the escalation in rhetoric, however, are the severe restrictions recently imposed by Iraq on cross-border trade, which pose a serious threat to bilateral relations, according to the Abdul Rahim Al-Rifai, Head of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti Relations Council. Iraq has reportedly reduced the amount of trucks permitted to cross the border each day from 2,000 to 60, while raising the fees due per truck by almost $80.

Kuwait Times was unable to confirm this decision with Iraqi officials in Basra, but while customs brokers at the border claimed the decision had been cancelled, commercial interests inside Iraq confirmed it, adding that the steps were protested by the Basran business community. A source familiar with cross-border trade, contacted by Kuwait Times, also complained of undue delays in obtaining the visas required by truckers to enter Iraq.

Officials on both sides were quick to deny any connection between the decision and the Mubarak project, with Iraq's ruling party, the State of Law Coalition insisting that it was a "technical undertaking related to tax law, that had previously been applied to both Syria and Jordan" which has "no relation whatsoever with the political differences between the two countries or with the issue of the Mubarak Port.

However, a businessman who regularly uses the Safwan crossing told Kuwait Times that the decision will lead to "higher costs for Iraqis for the goods they import...it is not in Iraq's interests," adding, "it doesn't make sense." Indeed, this argument is lent credence by the opposition the decision has faced from Iraqi traders. "This is not likely a Cabinet or high-level decision," the businessman added, which, if the case, invites speculation as to how long it will last.


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