Rocket attack on Iraq-Kuwait border escalates tensions

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The Independent Online

Tensions between Iraq and Kuwait appear to have escalated to violence after several rockets struck the border area between the two countries, where a controversial new mega-port project is under construction.

Relations between the two countries have slipped to their lowest ebb since the 1990-91 Gulf War after Kuwait began building the $1.1bn (£673m) Mubarak al-Kabir port on Bubiyan Island in May this year. Iraq argues that the new port, just 12 miles downstream from its own prestige port project, the Grand Faw, will strangle its narrow waterways and kill trade at its existing facilities.

Three Katyusha rockets hit the border area in the early hours of Friday morning last week, Al-Arabiya television reported. The rockets reportedly landed in Iraqi territory without reaching Kuwait.

While Iraqi officials have denied that the port was targeted, the Iraqi Shia militia Kata'ib Hezbollah had earlier threatened the South Korean consortium working on the project unless it stopped.

News of the port's construction was met with anger in the Iraqi parliament, developing into a tense war of words with calls for ambassadors to be expelled from both sides.

"If the Kuwaitis want evil, it will fall on their heads," the Iraqi parliamentarian Izzat Al-Shabander told the Kuwait Times after the attack, adding that Iraq was trying to resolve the dispute "peacefully".

The Kuwait embassy in Baghdad was evacuated last month after being struck by Katyusha rockets. The spat echoes the posturing that took place before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

* A suicide bomber blew himself up inside Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque yesterday, killing at least 29 worshippers during prayers.

Officials said 38 more people were injured in the strike on the Um al-Qura mosque in the western Baghdad neighbourhood of Al-Jamiaah. They said a member of parliament Khalidal-Fahdawi, a Sunni, was among the dead.

The mosque attack is reminiscent of a 2006 attack on a Shia shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra that fuelled widespread sectarian violence and nearly ignited a nationwide civil war.