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3 reasons why Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations are hostage to the past

The recent gunfire aimed at members of a border demarcation team on the Iraq-Kuwait border has shed light on the tense relations between the neighbouring countries, despite the fact that it has been 2 decades since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It also reveals the challenges standing in the way of future relations unless a solution for their unresolved issues is found. This includes Iraq’s financial obligations and disputes over oil fields on both sides of the border.


Both Iraqi and Kuwaiti sources confirmed recent gunfire on the border between Iraq and Kuwait during border demarcations. However, the story coming from the different sides differed regarding the source of the gunfire. Kuwait expressed offence at the actions of Iraqi citizens living close to borders who tried to hinder demarcation.

The Kuwaiti news site “Al-Aan” quoted a security source as saying, “An exchange of fire broke out after Iraqis hurled stones at Kuwaitis doing maintenance work on border posts.” “Al-Rai” newspaper also reported that Kuwait pulled the demarcation team out after the incident to de-escalate the situation.

However, sources from the Iraqi police in the Um Qasr area near the border, said some officers had fired into the air to disperse demonstrators in Iraq who were throwing stones at the police during a protest against border demarcation.

Both countries agreed to a precise map of their shared border after the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 and was forced out by a U.S.-led coalition. Iraq officially approved the borderline drawn by the UN in 1994, however many Iraqis in the area still disapprove this line, asserting that they had lost their homes and land.

Unresolved issues

The future of Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations cannot be established on strong foundations of trust, harmony and tolerance unless their unresolved issues are solved. The most notable of these is Iraq’s financial obligations, amounting to approximately $177.6 billion in compensations for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations approved $37.2 billion of this amount, and Kuwait has received $9.3 billion so far.

Moreover, there are the debts owed by Iraq to Kuwait, amounting to about $13.2 billion, part of which the current Iraqi government is trying to convince Kuwait to drop and contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq in order to strengthen friendly relations between the two countries.

In addition to the debts, there is the oil problem and the dispute between the two countries over the number of oil fields on each side of the border; oil fields extend on both sides of the border drawn in accordance with the resolution issued by a commission formed by the UN in 1993 and approved by Iraq and Kuwait. However, a number of Iraqi politicians in the government continue to doubting the justice of the conditions under which the borders were drawn, and are calling for the renegotiation of the borders which currently make the demarcation of the borders between the two countries difficult.

There are a number of oil fields in the two countries, the most important of which are “Raudhatain, Bahra, and Sabriya” in northern Kuwait and “Az Zubair, Qurna, and Majnoon”, in southern Iraq. A very important field extending between the two countries from north to south, called “Rutqa” in Kuwait and “Rumaila” in Iraq is a major obstacle in reaching a balanced agreement over oil cooperation. The deceased Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, used it as a justification to invade Kuwait in 1990 when he accused the Kuwaitis of stealing Iraqi oil through horizontal underground drilling.

Despite an improvement in relations after the American invasion of Iraq and the exchange of ambassadors, the border area still witnesses incidents of gunfire and infiltration from time to time. Furthermore, Iraqis organise protests against Kuwait and Kuwait enforces strict security measures on the border.

Kuwait has also set up many deterrents such as a border trench and a metal pipe that hinders cars. It has also set up a single passage for civilians and goods to pass into Iraq. All this renders future relations between the two countries uncertain, and warns that the border demarcation process is dependent on the resolution of disputes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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