Iraq looks to cut payments to Kuwait
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 8:03 AM
BAGHDAD, It appears that Iraq is hoping to cut by half the amount of money it is required to pay Kuwait annually for damages inflicted during the first Gulf War, according to an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Currently, Iraq turns over 5 percent of its oil revenue to a United Nations war reparations fund created after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Kuwait is the fund's primary beneficiary.
Iraqi officials say the financial obligation is a heavy burden as Iraq attempts to rebuild; some say that their country should no longer be required to pay reparations.
So far, Kuwait is insisting that Iraq continue its reparation payments.
The issue is raising tensions between the two neighbors.
"Negotiations with Kuwait are ongoing," said Maliki's adviser, Ali al- Musawi. "We hope that Kuwait will (allow Iraq to) eliminate its debts, but we do not think they will accept it. So we want to reduce the 5 percent to 2.5 percent."
Musawi made the comments days after Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, told reporters that Iraq is "trying to talk to the Kuwaitis to convince them either to forgive (the reparations) or reduce them."
Al-Bayati said that Iraq has already paid just over $27 billion in reparations and owes $25.5 billion more, $24 billion of which would go to Kuwait. He argued that Iraq needs the money "for services, reconstruction and development."
Reparations are only part of a broader issue facing the country as it attempts to rejoin the world community.
At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations imposed a special set of restrictions on Iraq, many of which remain in place today. Invoking Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, the world body not only ordered Iraq to pay billions in damages, but also designated the country as a danger to the security and stability in the region, a move that permits any Security Council member to use force in Iraq.
Iraqi leaders have long chafed under the restrictions.
As part of the Status of Forces Agreement, signed in the final days of the Bush administration between the United States and Iraq, Washington agreed to support Baghdad's efforts to have the U.N. sanctions lifted.
Christopher Hill, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Iraq, recently reiterated Washington's desire to have the restrictions lifted. He also said the United States "would like to see an Iraq-Kuwait relationship that continues to improve, and we will continue to be engaged in that."
But so far, Kuwait has been cool to any reconciliation effort and has insisted that Iraq must continue to pay reparations. In addition, Kuwait wants the land and sea borders between the two countries to be clearly demarcated and the remains of Kuwaiti prisoners of war to be returned.
For their part, Iraqis say they feel victimized by Saddam all over again.
"Iraq is not supposed to pay for the former regime's mistakes," Musawi said. "We were all the victims of this aggression."
Some in the Iraqi parliament argue that it's Kuwait, which supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which should be making reparation payments.
Kuwait has remained largely silent on the issue, but Ali al-Muamun, the Kuwaiti ambassador to Baghdad, has met al-Maliki to discuss the compensation, according to Musawi.
But talks and reconciliation between two wary neighbors are two different things. Many Iraqis eye their neighbor with suspicion, believing that Kuwait has still not forgiven Iraq even after Saddam's fall.
"Kuwait will never, ever forget the Iraqi invasion even though it's part of the past," said Amir al-Fayad, political sciences dean at Baghdad University.
And while Kuwait appointed its ambassador to Iraq last year, Baghdad has yet to reciprocate. That's yet another sore point for some Kuwaitis.http://calibre.mworld.com/m/m.w?lp=GetStory&id=367279931