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Kuwait 'reshapes' Iraq's Khor Abdullah pact amid Gaza war

Jamal al-Halbousi: Iraq's parliament reshaped Khor Abdullah pact due to 'Kuwaiti influences'
5 min read
04 December, 2023
He also appealed to Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to personally take care of Iraq's maritime and not let Kuwait deny Iraq's naval borders and rights.
He also stated that the agreement is an internal Iraqi affair, thus Kuwait and the Gulf Cooperation Council should not have escalated the situation. [Dana Taib Menmy/TNA]

Iraq's parliament is prioritising minor laws over the sovereign issue of the Khor Abdullah waterway due to "Kuwaiti interferences and bribes" that impacted Iraqi decision-makers on the dossier, Jamal al-Halbousi, an Iraqi expert and former head of Iraq's delegation for border and maritime negotiations with Kuwait, claimed to The New Arab during a lengthy interview in Baghdad.  

Al-Halbousi, who holds a PhD in political sciences and is an expert on the international border as well as maritime demarcation, claims that Kuwait is exploiting Israel's inhumane war on Gaza to influence Iraqi decision-makers on the Khor Abdullah waterway agreement. He also argued that Iraq has more rights over the Durra-Arash offshore gas field than Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

This interview has been edited for clarity and to be concise. 

"Iraq's maritime issues with the neighbouring countries date back to the conditions before the year 1980, but the eight-year war with Iran and successive wars with Kuwait caused the issues to be postponed," al-Halbusi said. "Secondly, there were no shortages in energy resources in the world. Thus, the Iraqi side had delayed demarking its maritime borders…but Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran had preceded Iraq in demarking their maritime; hence, our issues with these countries began." 

"The war on Gaza has preoccupied all issues in the Middle East politically, and it also occupied the focus of the media," al-Halbousi added. "Unfortunately, there are Kuwaiti sides that tried to exploit Iraq's and the Arab countries' engagement with Gaza to influence Iraqi decision makers on the disputed maritime issues illicitly, but we are on watch for both the Kuwaiti and Iraqi sides." 

He indicated that the unaccomplished demarcation of Iraq's maritime borders is a "sovereign" dossier that should include the Khor Abdullah al-Timimi waterway issue.

Khor Abdullah is a natural channel formed by the Shatt al-Arab River and the Persian Gulf, dividing Iraq to the north and Kuwait to the south, spanning approximately 120 kilometres.

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This waterway boasts historical significance that spans centuries, having played a pivotal role in the trade routes of the Arab Gulf.
Halbusi indicated that after the Ukraine-Russia war caused significant shortages of Russian energy supplies to Europe, the latter sought energy supplies from the Gulf. Hence, the issue of demarcation became more critical than ever. 

"Kuwait has misrepresented to the world that Khor Abdullah belongs to it, then if the waterway belongs to it, Kuwait itself was a sub-district of Basra province in the year 1898, then what they claim is a part of Basra; thus they are considered part of Iraq," he noted. "Such claims by Kuwaitis that Khor Abdullah belongs to them are untrue. Even though they presented untrue documents to the UN's resolution 833, the issue of demarcation in Khor Abdulla remained disputed with Iraq."

 Iraq's Federal Supreme Court decided that law number 42, passed by the Iraqi parliament in 2013, ratifying a 2012 agreement between the two neighbouring countries on regulating maritime navigation in the crucial Khor Abdullah waterway, was "unconstitutional".

The ruling was based on the argument that the parliament ratified the agreement with a simple majority, contrary to the constitution's requirement of a two-thirds majority for such approvals. 

"The 2012 joint agreement between Iraq and Kuwait on regulating maritime navigation in the Khor Abdullah crucial waterway was not cancelled, but the process of passing it in the Iraqi parliament was not constitutional," Halbusi said. "The agreement now should be returned to the Iraqi Ministry of transportations and the Iraqi government to present to the Iraqi parliament to vote on. If the Iraqi parliament passes the agreement with a two-thirds majority, then there is no problem." 

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He also noted that the agreement is an internal Iraqi affair, and Kuwait and the Gulf Cooperation Council should not have escalated the situation, as the escalations are considered "violations" and should wait for the Iraqi government and parliament to settle the issue. 

"The Iraqi parliament must look into the Khor Abdullah pact urgently and vote on it," he emphasised. "If the parliament passes the pact with a two-thirds vote, then the agreement will be lawful, and if a two-thirds vote could not be reached, then the Iraqi Ministry of transportations should negotiate with Kuwait to amend it." 

Regarding Iraq's maritime borders, Halbous said as per the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), Iraq has the right to 84 sea miles in the Gulf; hence, Iraq has superior rights in the Durra-Arash offshore gas field compared to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. 

In terms of why he was dismissed as the head of Iraq's negotiating delegation for border demarcation with Kuwait, he said he had uncovered a Kuwaiti scheme for border demarcation in 2013 to the Iraqi authorities, but instead of rewarding, he was fired from the post, subjected to interrogation on "false charges, and terrorism-related charges to forget the Khor Abdullah issue." 

He lamented how the Iraqi authorities imprisoned him for more than eight months, killed his brothers, and burnt his house, yet he did not keep silent on the issue.

He appealed to the Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, to personally take care of Iraq's maritime and not let Kuwait close the Iraqi maritime borders and rights.

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On Sunday, 30 July, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Salem Al-Sabah, during a joint press conference with Iraq's FM Fuad Hussein in Baghdad, claimed that the governor of Basra Asaad al-Eidani had promised him to "demolish houses of Iraqis in Umm Qasr soon."
Halbusi dismissed the claims by Kuwait's FM and pointed out he had spoken with the governor of Basra, who also refuted the claims, emphasising that Umm Qasr city is located inside the Iraqi territories. 

Iraq's prime minister inaugurated construction work on the Basra-Chalamja railway network in September, which is expected to connect the major port city of Basra in southern Iraq to Iran's vast railway networks and ports through the Chalamja border crossing. 

 Halbusi said if the purpose of the rail project between the two countries is for transit transportation of goods through Iraq, then it would be "a big loss for Iraq" as it will bypass Iraq's Grand Faw port that is under construction.

Finally, the Iraqi expert said Kuwait's establishment of Mubarak Al Kabeer Port in Bubiyan Island is considered "geographic damage" per LOSC, and the country is "working to sabotage Iraq's trade in the area." He also said the port only serves Kuwait's purposes, and Iraq has its ports and does not need any favour from its neighbour.