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Gulf War Legacy Flares as Kuwait Puts the Squeeze on Iraq

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Posted on Aug 1, 2009
Operation Desert Storm
Flickr / Lietmotiv

Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally printed in The Independent.

Almost 19 years to the day after Saddam Hussein’s legions invaded Kuwait – and less than 18 years since the US coalition liberated it – the Croesus-rich emirate is still demanding reparations from Baghdad as if the dictator of Iraq was still alive. Only last week, the Kuwaitis were accusing the Iraqis of encroaching on their unmarked border while insisting at the United Nations that Iraq must continue to pay 5 percent of its oil revenues to Kuwait as invasion reparations.

Hamid al-Bayati, Baghdad’s UN ambassador, has pleaded at the UN for an immediate reduction now that Saddam’s regime has been gone for more than six years. Up until April of 2009, Iraq had paid $27.1bn of the total compensation but still owes Kuwait alone another $24bn, “a heavy burden on Iraq,” as Mr Bayati put it, “which needs the money for services, reconstruction and development.”

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has now told the UN that reparations can surely be reduced since modern-day Iraq no longer poses a threat to anyone.

He was speaking to the deaf. Kuwait is currently being as ruthless – or greedy – in its demands as it was before Saddam invaded on 2 August 1990. In the weeks before the attack, Kuwait had raised its oil production from 1.5 million barrels a day – the Opec quota – to 1.9 million. Saddam claimed that a fall of just $1 a barrel – it had already fallen from $18 to $14 – would cost Iraq, which had only two years earlier finally concluded its eight-year war with Iran, $1bn a year in lost income.


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Saddam also claimed that Kuwait had been stealing oil from Iraq’s southern fields by boring northwards along their mutual frontier; in other words, Kuwait was thieving the resources of the nation whose armies saved it from Iran’s revolution.

Exclusive as these claims appeared to be – although no one could contradict the rise in Kuwaiti oil production – this formed part of the background to the frontier dispute which Kuwait is still haggling over.

Kuwait is still demanding not only reparations but another $16bn in loans that funded the war with Iran, a conflict that has already entered the history books. No wonder, then, that poor old Iraq – whose current oil revenues have fallen from $7bn just over a year ago to just over $2bn in May – is considering a request for $7bn in loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Since the current Iraqi government is effectively a Shia Muslim administration, Mr Maliki has reason to feel aggrieved. The Shia suffered more from Saddam than the Kuwaitis, and Iraq today is a friendly nation – if it really is a state – rather than an international pariah. The debt burden to Kuwait is beginning to sniff like that other outrageous set of reparations levelled against another state, Germany, in 1919. Which is why a number of countries to whom Iraq owed debts – the United Arab Emirates has just written off $7bn – have abandoned their reparations demands after the usual American pressure.

So is this just typical Kuwaiti meanness, an oil-dripping emirate with a per capita income of $41,000 further crushing a nation with a per capita income of less that $4,000? Middle East oil analysts have their doubts. “The Kuwaitis have always had a reputation for stinginess,” one said last Tuesday in despair. “But I think there is more to this than you think. Kuwait was a founder of the Gulf development fund and in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, treated Palestinians and Lebanese without restrictions – and the Palestinians then betrayed the Kuwaitis by falling in with Saddam after the 1990 invasion.”

But there is more – and it involves the ethnic balance in the two nations’ populations. “Maybe 40 per cent of people in Kuwait are now Shia rather than Sunni Muslims and these people are now investing heavily in southern Iraq,” the oil man said Tuesday. “The Kuwaiti Shias are becoming ‘Basra-ites’ and vice versa. More and more Shia from the south of Iraq are becoming businessmen and trading with Kuwait. This causes a blurring of the border between the two countries, a feeling that the two economies are becoming linked. No wonder the Kuwaitis want to stand by the letter of the law.”

There are some unpleasant precedents for the Kuwaitis. The crushing debt which the Treaty of Versailles heaped upon Germany was lesson enough; Germany’s financial loss became Hitler’s gain. Maybe the Kuwaitis should pull out some history books and ponder what Iraq will look like – and who its leader may be – in 20 years’ time.

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By coloradokarl, August 4, 2009 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment

Naw, I catch the bugs in my house and release them outside. It is a fun visual, though…....

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By DBM, August 4, 2009 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment

What is that ... Haiku?!  smile

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By NZDoug, August 4, 2009 at 3:33 am Link to this comment

paSS WIND or share wind.
the world wont eat death

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By Sepharad, August 3, 2009 at 11:03 pm Link to this comment

Inherit the Wind—I didn’t know about the Al Sabahs disappearing the resistance fighters. In fact I know very little about Kuwait’s rulers and their history, as distint from the Shi’ia/Sunni divide. A good book you could recommend on the subject?

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By NZDoug, August 3, 2009 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment

you are absolutely keerect.
Geo, Don, my apologies.
As there is no exit plan for Afganistan, its only logical that they will be redeployed to Iran, once USAF base Israel deals with those lucky Iranians.
How dare they have the 4rth largest oil reserves. (and no crude refineries).

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By DBM, August 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment

NZDoug ... my undergrad was at SFU ... amazing eh?

BTW - I think it was McCain that sang Bomb Bomb Iran.

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By NZDoug, August 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm Link to this comment

Hey DBM (Cuzy bro)
I joined this discussion as I was inspired by colaradoKarl.
Dont worry, Ill be nice!
Im also CDN, ya know,eh!

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By DBM, August 3, 2009 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment

I hear the Republicans (or their PR organisers) are arranging to bus in people to any town halls held by Democratic Senators and Reps during the August break.  They are being coached to disrupt and interject so that the reps can’t get their messages across).

I suspect that ColoradoKarl is the cyber equivalent.  A comment like that isn’t really worth discussion.

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By Paul_GA, August 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

I hope he is, Sepharad—that’s an awfully nasty comment.

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By Sepharad, August 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

coloradokarl—You’re kidding, right?

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By Dar, August 3, 2009 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The oil-rich Gulf Arab nations are all rotten to the core.

Most other Arabs dislike them.

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By DBM, August 2, 2009 at 11:21 pm Link to this comment

To OldHip ... re “Says it all”: 
Hmmm ... the American public right in between Egypt and Russia in attitudes to torture.  Charming.

NZDoug (‘Cuz!) ... if you’re not being sarcastic you might have stumbled over a site you’re not going to like much of (like ColoradoKarl)!

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By Sepharad, August 2, 2009 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment

Re “Some Shi’iah Kuwaitis are becoming Basra-ites.”
Sectarianism is Islam’s worst enemy and probably always will be. Wouldn’t be surprised if the root of a huge Middle Eastern conflagration won’t end up being the old Sunni v. Shi’ih, Salafist v. Wahabbi ancient hatreds.

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By coloradokarl, August 2, 2009 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment

I think We should blow all the greedy towel heads to Kingdom Come and let them fuck virgins until their dicks fall off. Thats camel jockey hell, Right?

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By NZDoug, August 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment

What a curse it is to have natural resources when your not a Western Country.
Total destruction is the only solution -Bob Marley.
Sing along with George and Donald.
“Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”

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By John Hanks, August 2, 2009 at 9:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kuwait reminds me of Texas.  Arrogant and corrupt. Always feeding on human weakness.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 2, 2009 at 5:35 am Link to this comment

I love how TD journalists misuse the Versailles fiasco of reparations, tie it Hitler, but never seem to know that it was actually all pretty much resolved in 1925 in the Locarno Pact, a set of well-defined, interlocking treaties that brought Germany into the League of Nations and brought reparations to a reasonable level.

But the point should be clear: Our defense of Kuwait should have had little to do with protecting the vicious, cowardly Al Sabah regime and more to do with preventing Saddam from upsetting the balance of power on the Persian Gulf.  The Al Sabah family fled, leaving their subjects to face the Iraqis.

When the Al Sabahs came back, they rounded up and “disappeared” all the brave Kuwaiti resistance fighters because they would be a focus and threat to Al Sabah.  Classic tyrannical behavior—kill any threat to YOUR regime even if it hurts the nation.  Murder your heroes so you cannot be compared to them—and be found wanting.

Murderers.  No better than Saddam Hussein.

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By Paul_GA, August 2, 2009 at 5:29 am Link to this comment

It would also be well for the Kuwaitis to consider just where the USA will be in 20 years’ time; this country won’t be the empire it is now forever, y’know.

A lot of small countries, not just Kuwait, will rue the day they hitched their little red wagons to the weakening American war horse ...

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By Keri, August 2, 2009 at 12:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m not sure you can say that the Shia suffered more under Saddam than the Kuwaitis and accusing them of being stingy when it comes to repaying debts that are legally owed to them is a bit rich. (pun intended)
We are only talking about 5% of oil income. They still keep 95%.

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By oldhip, August 1, 2009 at 7:46 pm Link to this comment

This “Says It All…” about us…

Reality is what it is, even if it sucks rocks.

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