Ri Insights

On the Issue of Khor Abdullah

Hamad picBy Hamad Al Thunayyan

Rai Insights Contributor

Washington D.C.: About a month ago, a political storm spurred in Iraq in response to the signed maritime agreement, between Kuwait and Baghdad, regulating navigation in the shared Khor Abdullah waterway.  Several Iraqi parliament members voiced their opposition to the agreement and accused the Abadi-led government of selling Khor Abdullah to Kuwait.  One parliament member, Awatef Neema, went further by claiming that Kuwait is a part of Iraq, and the Iraqi government should not be held accountable to any “international resolutions made by the former reckless Baathist regime”.  Moreover, just recently, the Iraqi parliament formed a temporary committee to consider the Khor Abdullah issue.

While this sudden outburst over Khor Abdullah by some Iraqi parliament members ensued for domestic political consumption, Iraqi lawmakers must understand that invoking the territorial integrity of Kuwait in their internal political squabbling is not constructive for the relations between the two countries.

First, the maritime deal was made in accordance with United Nations resolution 833.  This resolution explicitly notes that the 1993 formed international demarcation commission task was not to reallocate territory between Kuwait and Iraq.  The commission demarcated the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders for the first time based on the 1963 agreement between Kuwait and Baghdad.  The two countries signed an agreement on how to coordinate the use of Khor Abdullah in 2012.

While Kuwait acknowledges that the Iraqi government made a sensible decision by adhering to its international commitments and signing the maritime agreement over Khor Abdullah, many are wary of the hawkish voices in the Iraqi parliament.  The rhetoric used by some lawmakers today is similar to that used by the deceased Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.  If Iraq reneges on its international obligations toward Kuwait, then this action would be considered a threat to international peace and security.  There is no doubt the Kuwaiti government will resort to the United Nations and use all feasible means in this case to protect Kuwait’s territorial sovereignty.  This will ultimately reset Kuwait-Iraq relations back to square one.

My view is that calls from some Iraqi lawmakers to withdraw from international agreements made under previous administration should be alarming to all of Iraq’s neighbors and the wider international community.  They basically say that all international agreements made by Iraq before 2003 could be null because the Baathist regime ruled them.  Now, no one would be able to predict the actions of those reckless Iraqi lawmakers if they were to be in control of the government.  They might use the same argument in the future to dispute their borders with another neighbor, or perhaps even revoke Iraq’s signature on the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  This is not how international relations works.

Second, this reckless notion that Kuwait should give up Khor Abdullah to Iraq ignores the collective memories of Kuwaitis toward the Iraqi state.  The 1990 Iraqi invasion still lingers in the memories of many Kuwaitis.  They still remember how Kuwait’s institutions fell within hours, and their country was declared the 19th province of Iraq after the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait and bombarded the capital, under the orders of the ousted leader Saddam Hussein.  Kuwaitis still rejoice the moment their country was liberated in 1991, assisted by the largest military coalition ever assembled, when led by the United States.  Kuwaitis know what it feels to lose their country and loved ones.  They learned a valuable lesson.  Not surprisingly, the Kuwaiti parliament members called for a closed session to discuss Khor Abdullah, and they will exert more pressure on the Kuwaiti government if the issue remains unresolved in Iraq.

Despite the bloody memories of 1990, Kuwait opened a new cooperative chapter with the consecutive Iraqi administration after the United States militarily toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.  Many Western and Asian diplomats praise Kuwait for taking the lead in engaging with Iraq.  Kuwait’s Amir was one of the few Arab leaders, and the only GCC leader, who attended the 2012 Arab League summit in the unsafe Baghdad capital as a show of solidarity to the Iraqi government.  Kuwait provided the Iraqi government with more than $376 million worth of humanitarian aid, and the aid keeps flowing to Iraq till this day to support them in their fight against ISIS.  Also there are ongoing talks for Kuwait to host an international donors conference for Iraq in the foreseeable future.

After the recent incident, however, several Kuwaiti politicians expressed their concern over future relations with Iraq.  They feel some Iraqi politicians cannot be trusted.  And the blood-stained past adds insult to injury.  Indeed, it is critical for Iraqi lawmakers to keep Kuwaiti-Iraqi relations above their domestic politics.

*Hamad AlThunayyan is a PhD Researcher in Political Science at University of Maryland- College Park. He earned his BA in Political Science from Virginia Commonwealth University and MA in International Relations from American University – Washington, DC. He specializes in Gulf security, Iran, and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

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