27-03-2013 04:25PM ET

More than a border dispute

Can Iraqis and Kuwaitis draw appropriate lessons from their turbulent past and live peacefully as neighbours, asks Salah Nasrawi

The escalation of tensions along the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border and the consequent political developments have cast a long shadow over efforts to normalise relations between Baghdad and Kuwait more than two decades after the invasion of the tiny emirate by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
Iraq hopes that the UN Security Council will make a formal announcement next month to lift the remaining UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after the 1990 invasion following the completion of the border demarcation between the two long-time foes.
Under the sanctions to force Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait, Iraq was placed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter, which gives the Security Council the power to take military and non-military action to “restore international peace and security”.
Kuwait has rejected all Iraqi attempts to lift the embargo until Iraq fulfils its obligations, including ending border-demarcation disputes, determining the fate of missing Kuwaiti persons and property, and payment of war reparations and loans made to Saddam to fight the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War.
Earlier this month, Iraqi residents of the border town of Umm Qasr threw stones in protest against the demarcation of the border with Kuwait after workers tried to evict them from their houses to build pillars along the 205km border.
The United Nations has set 31 March as the deadline for ensuring the completion of the work and before the Security Council meets again to review Iraq’s compliance with the obligations.
In a report to the council this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reminded Iraq of the need to remove all obstacles to the completion of the project marking the border between Iraq and Kuwait on time.
The Umm Qasr incident, which prompted security forces on both sides of the frontier to fire in the air to disperse the protesters, underlined the lingering territorial dispute between the two neighbours.
Successive Iraqi governments since the modern state of Iraq came into being in 1923 have not accepted the British-drawn borders that established Kuwait as a separate sheikhdom after the signature of the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913.
After his 1990 invasion, Saddam annexed Kuwait and declared it to be Iraq’s 19th province. However, after the sheikdom’s liberation by a US-led international coalition Saddam formally accepted UN resolutions that assigned the organisation to assist in making arrangements with Iraq and Kuwait to demarcate the boundary between them.
The United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation Commission was established to help define the border between the two countries, its mandate being that its decisions regarding the demarcation of the boundary would be final.
The Security Council also provided a map for the demarcation and decided to “guarantee the inviolability of the above-mentioned international boundary and to take as appropriate all necessary measures to that end in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations”.
Work in demarcating the boundaries, however, was brought to a halt by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Later, the IKBMP, or Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Maintenance Project, was established in the form of a joint committee between both countries to finalise efforts to determine the borders.
No final agreement has yet been announced, and many Iraqis in the area remain opposed to the demarcation negotiations, saying that the new border has robbed them of property and territory.
After the Umm Qasr incident, Kuwait expressed its dismay to the United Nations, claiming that the Iraqis had obstructed UN-supervised border-sign maintenance and had removed the border fence between two signs.
Days later, Kuwait arrested at least six Iraqi fishermen and seized their boats, allegedly for crossing into the emirate’s territorial waters, in the latest incident to have taken place in the narrow strip of water separating the two countries at the northern tip of the Arabian Gulf.
The Kuwaiti coastguard often opens fire on Iraqi fishermen in the area, claiming encroachment on its territorial waters.
Government officials in Iraq and Kuwait have avoided making public statements on the recent incident probably in order to avoid a flare up, but politicians on both sides have talked up the border dispute, some apparently for reasons of political opportunism.
In Kuwait, several lawmakers wanted to question their government and called for tougher measures to protect Kuwaiti employees and military personnel in the border area. Others have been seeking a slow-down in normalising relations with Iraq.
Iraqi parliamentarians went as far as to ask their government to stop its cooperation with the United Nations in the demarcation work altogether.
The Al-Sadr bloc, which is controlled by the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, called on the Iraqi government to renegotiate the border deal, which it said had been unfairly imposed by the United Nations.
The Iraqi government has made it clear that it wants to comply with all the UN resolutions relating to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in order to convince the Security Council to lift the crippling obligations under chapter 7 of the UN charter from Iraq.
Iraq hopes that an expected visit by Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak to Baghdad next month will end several pending issues, including the demarcation of borders.
Ahead of the visit, Kuwait said it had agreed with Iraq to build new houses for Iraqis to quicken the demarcation process. Under the plan, a new housing project accommodating more than 200 Iraqi families will be built some three kilometres from the border posts and beyond a security zone.
For Kuwait, the US-led war that toppled Saddam in 2003 was supposed to herald a new relationship with Iraq, a country that had long been ruled by hostile regimes and had briefly subjugated it to a ruthless military occupation.
For many Kuwaitis, the question now is still whether post-Saddam Iraq will be peaceful and friendly towards Kuwait and abide by the rules of international law, or whether it use its oil heft and large population to get its way.
Ten years after the US-led invasion, Kuwaitis still seem concerned by the spectre of threats from their northern neighbour. The Kuwaitis fear that some Iraqis still challenge their version of the history of their country and could still claim that Kuwait belongs to Iraq.
Another mantra repeated by many Kuwaitis, mostly Sunni Muslims, is that post-US-invasion Iraq is dominated by pro-Iranian Shias and these could be just as threatening as an Iraq led by the Sunni Saddam.
Recently, some Kuwaiti lawmakers have alleged that thousands of Iraqi Shias who entered the emirate during the invasion and sought settlement there are loyal to the Mahdi Army, an Iraqi paramilitary force created by Muqtada Al-Sadr.
Meanwhile, many Iraqis are worried about Kuwait’s intentions and wonder if the oil-rich emirate will want to relinquish its past fears about Iraq and work to maintain long-term friendly relations with their country regardless of who is in power in Baghdad.
They also prefer to limit the disputes and claims and counter-claims within the two countries in order to try to resist any involvement and display of leadership by a third party, even if it is the United Nations.
One of the remaining contentious issues is Kuwait’s construction of a major port on Boubyan Island on the Khor Abdallah waterway, which is the only strategic access to the sea for Iraq.
Many Iraqis maintain that the Mubarak Al-Kabir Port will limit access to Iraqi ports because the Kuwaiti port would leave only a narrow lane free for Iraq-bound ships.
Kuwait maintains that the mega-project is being built in order to meet its needs for a strategic port in the region and that it would not choke off Iraqi ports.
Amid tensions over the construction of the Port last year, Iraqi radical groups threatened to launch rocket attacks on the port if work was not stopped on its construction.
Iraq and Kuwait are bound to find common ground and to start confidence-building measures in order to maintain a stable and amicable relationship. It is essential that Iraq quickly frees itself from the UN Chapter 7 sanctions and that Kuwait facilitates this.
Iraq, on the other hand, should also make every effort to mitigate fears that it is an existential threat to its southern neighbour. If relations between Iraq and Kuwait were to become hostile once more, the whole region would suffer.
                                                                  قمــة الـلامعنــــي 

يزخر المعجم السياسي بمقولات ساخرة عن القمم العربية باعتبارها جزءا من فولكلور أسهم في ادامة حالة العجز والتردي العربي في مواجهة تحديات هائلة واجهتها المنطقة علي مدي نحو سبعة عقود هي عمر جامعة الدول العربية‏,‏ التي تتولي زمام ما يطلق عليه بمسيرة العمل العربي المشترك.لعل خلاصة خبرة هذه التجربة التاريخية المريرة تتجلي الآن في ما آلت إليه المنطقة العربية من أوضاع تسير بها الي النقيض تماما لما قامت عليه الجامعة, حيث لا دولها عادت دولا ولا مجتمعاتها غادرت قبليتها وطائفيتها لتكون أمة, كما تواجه هويتها القومية الآن تحديات التعصب الديني والانقسام المذهبي.
هذه الحالة هي التي ستضلل ثاني قمة عربية تعقد بعد موجة الهبات الثورية التي أطاحت بعدد من أعتي الأنظمة العربية قبل عامين ووضعت المنطقة برمتها علي أعتاب مرحلة جديدة, ما يجعل من مجرد التئامها نشازا في ايقاع حركة التطور في المنطقة, وكأنها تعقد خارج السياق التاريخي التي أصبحت تسير عليه. والقائمون علي قمة الدوحة يدركون تماما هذه المفارقة ولذلك استعانوا بمحترفي تدبيج الشعارات الذين أطلقوا علي القمة التي تفتتح اليوم قمة الوضع الراهن وآفاق المستقبل وأسبغوا عليها أيضا مهمة وهي انعقادها من أجل غد أفضل للشعوب العربية, وهو ما ينتمي الي منظومة الخداع والتضليل السياسي, وليس إلي الحقيقة.
كل الوقائع المتوافرة تشير الي أن هذه القمة, ومثلها كانت قمة بغداد العام الماضي أيضا, هي مجرد عرض من تلك العروض البائسة التي دأب علي اقامتها النظام العربي سنويا والتي لا هدف لها إلا انعاش مؤسسة تحتضر بعد أن فقدت بوصلتها وانطفأ بريقها وأصبحت عاجزة عن مواجهة متطلبات مرحلة ثورية تسعي لاقامة الحرية علي الأرض العربية التي جرفها الاستبداد والفساد. مؤسسة القمة العربية هذه فقدت حتي عنصر الكوميديا التي كانت توفرها اعلاناتها بالتنديد والاستنكار والشجب, أو مشاهد المناكفات بين المشاركين فيها أو الممارسات المسلية التي كان يضفيها عليها طاغية مهووس مثل معمر القذافي.
فمهما وضع منظمو هذا المهرجان السنوي من شعارات أو ترنموا بخطابات فانهم سيكونون بعيدين عن الواقع الدراماتيكي الذي يمر به العالم العربي اليوم. وما لا يدركونه هو أن العالم العربي لم يعد ذلك الاقليم الذي أسست من أجله الجامعة العربية بهدف حماية دوله وكياناته التي صاغت حدودها اتفاقية سايكس بيكو الاستعمارية وأنه يعيش اليوم وفق حقائق جيوسياسية جديدة ومتغيرات تفرزها وقائع سنين الغليان التي سيظل يعيشها العرب بعد أن حطمت ثورات ربيعهم ذلك الاستثناء العار الذي وصمت به كأمة غير قادرة علي كسر جدران الخوف والانعتاق من الطغيان.
أحد أهم أسباب حالة الفوضي الحالية والثمن الباهظ الذي ندفعه لها والاحتمالات المفتوحة علي تفكيك المنطقة وتشظي بعض دولها هو المؤسسة نفسها, التي تمثلها القمة التي تدعي أنها ستأتي للعرب بمستقبل أفضل. لقد فوتت هذه المؤسسة أهم فرصة توافرت لها قبل عقد من الزمان لاصلاح أنظمتها ومجتمعاتها.
في قمة تونس عام2004 أجهض المشاركون فرصة نادرة للبدء بعملية الاصلاح والتحول الديمقراطي في العالم العربي حين استخدموا كل حيلهم وألاعيبهم وأساليب المماطلة والتسويف بغية افشال مشروع الاصلاح, الذي لو كان انجز لانتشل المنطقة من المستنقع الذي كانت فيه وأنقذها من هذا المصير الذي آلت اليه. وفي تلك القمة تجلت بشكل فاضح شراسة الأنظمة العربية في مواجهة أي محاولة حقيقية للاصلاح.
محاضر جلسات القمة تكشف عن كراهية لا مثيل لها لكلمة الاصلاح نفسها, رفضت بعض الوفود العربية أن تتضمنها أي وثيقة واستبدلوها بكلمة تطوير المطاطة ضمنوها ورقة سموها التطوير والتحديث في الوطن العربي وبيانا أطلقوا عليه  وثيقة العهد في ايحاء مزر أن الحرية لن تكون إلا منحة بأيدي الحكام وليست حقا من حقوق الشعوب.
ولم ينج بيان قمة بغداد العام الماضي من هذا الازدراء لكلمة الاصلاح حتي بعد ثورات شعبية في خمسة بلدان عربية, حيث أشار الاعلان الي الاشادة بـ التطورات والتغييرات السياسية وربطها بـ احترام القانون, في حين أصر البعض في مؤتمر وزراء الخارجية العرب الأخير علي اعادة إحياء وثيقة العهد البائسة بـ اعتبارها الأساس الأمثل الذي ينبغي الانطلاق منه في التطوير برغم ان الوثيقة ؤدت في مهدها لحظة مولدها عام.2004
ولم يقتصر الأمر علي اجهاض تلك الفرصة الذهبية, بل أن الأنظمة العربية ذات الامكانات المالية البترولية والمواقف السياسية المحافظة والتي أخذت مقعد القيادة في غيبة اطراف مؤثرة في النظام العربي, تعاملت مع حركات التغيير والثورات العربية بطريقة تآمرية, كما شاهدنا في العراق وفي مصر وليبيا واليمن وسوريا, لحسابات علي رأسها منع امتداد شرارة التغيير إليها, وأيضا لرغبة دفينة في اضعاف دول رئيسية تزعجهم قدراتها البشرية والجيواستراتيجية.
الطربقة الوحيدة التي يمكن أن تكون فيها القمة العربية هذه نافعة هي أن تقر استراتيجيات ايجابية متكاملة للوقوف الي جانب الثورات العربية وتتبني أهدافها في تحقيق الديمقراطية الحقيقية والحرية والعدالة والمساواة لجميع الشعوب العربية. ومن مستلزمات ذلك توفير دعم مالي سخي لاعادة بناء دول الثورات العربية التي خربت بسبب سياسات الدكتاتورية ونهب الثروات والفساد ومساعدتها علي تعزيز نموها الاقتصادي والاجتماعي في الفترات الانتقالية التي تمر بها.
مثل هذه المساعدات ليست منة, بل هي كفارة عن تلك السياسات التي عرقلت التحول الديمقراطي في العالم العربي لعقد من الزمن دفعت خلاله شعوبه وستدفع اثمانا باهظة, ولكي تكون ترجمة فعلية لشعار القمة من أجل غد افضل للشعوب العربية. إن مؤتمرا يأنف عن دعم الثورات ويجعلها ورقة في المساومات الاقليمية والدولية, ناهيك عن أن يقر بها في بياناته لا يستحق أن يسمي قمة, بل سيكون قمة اللامعني للنظام العربي ولجامعة دوله.

Fiasco of the Iraq war anniversary

A decade after the US-led invasion of their country, Iraqis are still counting the costs in human suffering and destruction, writes Salah Nasrawi

The newsroom in the villa-turned-office of the Associated Press in the Qatari capital of Doha looked like any other newsroom, except that it was being swiftly readied for “Shock and awe”, the codename given by the Pentagon to the upcoming US-led invasion of Iraq.
In early March 2003, I was sent there as an AP correspondent to join a strong team of editors and writers who would be reporting and supervising news coverage of the war on Iraq.
The gas and oil-rich Gulf emirate was hosting two US military bases and the headquarters of the war command, where daily briefings were planned over the course of the war.
As an Iraqi reporter who had covered the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s and the 1991 Gulf War for AP, I was also supposed to provide independent coverage from the invaded country’s point of view and help other AP reporters shape their stories by providing input on the cultural and historical background of Iraq.
Personally, I did not support the war, but probably like most Iraqis I was excited at the prospect of the new opportunities that could await the Iraqi people after the expected ouster of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
Yet, I already had my doubts about the announced goals of the invasion, especially about its creating a functioning democracy in Iraq. Based on thorough research of the war preparations and previous US experiences of intervention, it had become clear to me that Washington had no nation-building plans for Iraq and that it had thrown together a strategy for the invasion on the fly.
What came to trouble me most and prompted me to leave AP’s war room in Doha after only two weeks was my feeling that I should not put myself in a position where I might be seen as unpatriotic or unconsciously boosting the US-led invasion and occupation of my country.
Indeed, during the standoff with the Saddam regime, I had resisted attempts to be manipulated by the bizarre media fabrication of news about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, which had helped former US president George W Bush make the case for war.
Three months before the war started, I had argued in an article published in the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat that the United States would eventually defeat Saddam’s forces, but that disaster would ensue, leaving the country in ruins.
Ten years after the horrendous adventure, Iraq today is a devastated and tormented nation. Reports published on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion show that both the human and financial costs of the invasion of Iraq are higher than most people realise.
A decade of war in Iraq has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and potentially contributed to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands more from indirect causes related to devastated infrastructure.
There are now more than one million Iraqi refugees abroad who have little hope of returning to their homes due to the ongoing political instability and violence. Millions of Iraqis remain displaced inside Iraq, some of them indefinitely, and many of them are living in grotesque conditions.
Iraq’s healthcare, infrastructure, and education systems were devastated by the war. Public services, including water and electricity supplies, are in disarray.
The ripple effects on the Iraqi economy have also been significant, as Iraq now imports most of its food, and farmers and factory workers have found themselves out of their jobs as agriculture and industry have ground to a halt.
Corruption is rampant. Bribery, graft and racketeering are not only widespread, but they are also systematic and institutionalised. Since the US occupation in 2003, Iraq has been ranked by the international NGO Transparency International as among the most corrupt countries in the world.
Most women in Iraq live in poverty, and they are shut out of social life. Violence against women, high rates of female unemployment, increasing religious intolerance and widowhood have further eroded their status.
While it was promised that the US-led invasion would bring democracy, freedom and human rights to Iraq, the country remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, the torture of detainees and unfair trials.
In a report on the country 10 years after the US-led invasion, the international NGO Amnesty International said this week that a decade of abuses had exposed a litany of torture and other ill-treatments of detainees committed by the Iraqi security forces and foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion.
The report highlighted the “Iraqi authorities continuing failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of persistent deadly attacks by armed groups, who show callous disregard for civilian life.”
Iraq is now gripped in its worst political crisis since the US-led invasion, amid sectarian divisions, rival clashes and terrorist attacks that have sparked concerns about the country’s post-war stability.
Iraq’s government is in disarray. Nearly half of the ministers have been boycotting cabinet meetings for months, while the parliament rarely meets to debate national issues.
The country’s constitution is a matter of opinion, and its political elite are at loggerheads with each other. Its president has been reported to be clinically dead, while political parties cannot even contemplate choosing a successor.
For months, the country has been gripped by the worst political crisis for years, with Iraq’s three main ethnicities bickering over a power and wealth-sharing structure formulated by the US occupation authorities that made Iraq into a federal state.
A few weeks before last year ended, the political deadlock took a sharp and perilous course as the country’s Shia-led government and its Kurdish and Sunni partners engaged in a bitter power struggle and military standoffs.
The sharpening divide between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis has given rise to increasing sectarianism. Hundreds of people are still losing their lives to sectarian conflict each month, mostly in attacks by the Sunni Al-Qaeda terrorist group against Shias.
By and large, the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and its aftermath over the past ten years has inflicted multiple disasters on the country and turned Iraq into a failed state.
Today, Iraq stands on the verge of a devastating all-out civil war that would complete what the Americans started by ruining the country that was once the birthplace of human civilisation.
Surprisingly, many of the writers in the US mainstream media who swarmed over Iraq for the tenth anniversary of Bush’s army marching on Baghdad are still removed from reality and look at Iraq through the lenses of the war’s promoters.
Some of them insist that Iraq today has far better prospects than it would have had under Saddam, citing for example the Shias’ public displays of their faith by hanging up images of their revered saints, or nightly TV talk shows that bristle with barking criticisms of the government.
In talking themselves into believing these lurid fantasies, these reporters do not neglect to mention other signs of progress, such as waiters in Baghdad restaurants taking orders for spaghetti and pizza on iPads, or shopping malls and swanky hotels opening up in some parts of Iraq.
Other US writers have missed the opportunity for real reflection on the anniversary, instead engaging in useless debate about the flawed case for the war made by the Bush administration and by the dysfunctional national security process and tensions between different policy-making bodies.
A decade after the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi people are entitled to know more about the deceit of US policy-makers who deliberately and consciously launched a war to destroy Iraq.
Like during the fiasco of the invasion itself, when the US mainstream media participated in building the case for the war, the fiasco of the war’s anniversary has shown that the same media has not been forthcoming in reflecting on the broader question of why the Bush administration embarked on the vicious enterprise of destroying Iraq, unleashing the dynamics that are now playing out and destroying the wider Middle East.