Legacy of Gulf War and border dispute continue to dog relations with Kuwait

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Twenty years after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, tensions between the two countries continue to run high over borders, war reparations and civil disputes that culminated this week in the closure of Iraq's state airline.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, said the key dispute between the two sides was over the maritime border, drawn after the 1991 Gulf War, that meant Iraqi ships have to sail through Kuwaiti waters to reach home ports. One pier on the maritime frontier is half Iraqi and half Kuwaiti. The maritime border was drawn up in Kuwait's favour after the first Gulf War. Endorsed by the UN, it was accepted by Saddam Hussein when his fortunes were at low ebb in 1993 and he was prepared to make concessions to stay in power. "The land and maritime border is the key issue," said Mr Zebari. "The Iraqi side of the channel is shallow our ships have to go through Kuwait waters."

The shipping channel inside Iraqi waters is blocked by wrecked ships and treacherous because of shallow waters. It means Iraqi ships are forced to sail in Kuwaiti waters, although the emirate has offered to help dredge the Iraqi side of the shipping channel so this can be avoided in future.

But the animosity between the two sides makes compromise difficult. Other key disputes include the payment to Kuwait of five per cent of Iraq's oil revenues as reparations. Kuwait Airways' demand for $1.2bn as compensation for the snatching of 10 aircraft in 1990 forced the closure of state carrier Iraqi Airways this week.

The Kuwaitis want to keep the protection of UN Security Council resolutions passed after the war that were aimed at demonstrating the extent of Saddam Hussein's defeat. But no Iraqi government post-Saddam will want to explain why it has agreed that Iraqi vessels should continue to pass through Kuwaiti waters to reach the Gulf.