Friday, June 3, 2011

Iraq-Kuwait Argue Over Competing Port Plans In the Persian Gulf

Iraq and Kuwait have been trying to patch up relations for the last eight years. Saddam Hussein was considered an existential threat to the kingdom because of his 1990 invasion, and many Kuwaitis are still caught up in the past, and have been slow to adapt to the new Iraq. Still, the two have been carrying on a series of talks about a wide range of outstanding issues between them. The problem is that every time they seem to make some progress, something comes up, which strains relations. That’s happening currently over two plans to build ports, one in Kuwait and one in Iraq, which have led to a new series of accusations and recriminations.

In April 2011, Kuwait began work on its Great Mubarak Port. It is located on Bubyan Island, just off the coast of Iraq. Kuwait signed a contract with South Korea’s Hyundai to build the port, which is supposed to be completed by 2016 for a cost of $1.1 billion. It will include container docks, deep water harbors, a free trade zone, a rail network, and residential areas. By the end of May, an official from Kuwait’s Ministry of Public Works claimed that 48% of the first phase of construction had already been completed. When finished it will be the largest port in the Persian Gulf.

The problem for Iraq is that it plans on building the Grand Faw Port right across from Kuwait’s Mubarak. On April 15, 2009, Iraq signed a deal with Italy’s Technital to design the port. On April 4, 2011 Iraq’s Transportation Minister laid the corner stone for Faw. Construction is supposed to cost $6 billion. It will have a capacity of 99 million tons of cargo per year, and include a railway line to Europe via Turkey. Iraq wants it to be not only the biggest port in the region, but to make it a major transit point between Asia and Europe, and to compete with the Suez Canal. The government is arguing that it will be cheaper and faster to unload containers at Faw, and then ship them to Europe by rail, then going through Egypt. The entire project is supposed to be finished by 2017. The Transportation Minister has threatened to resign if Faw was not completed. Currently, Um Qasr is the only deep water port in Iraq, but it is old and lacks capacity. Faw is part of Iraq’s grand plan to rebuild and prosper after twenty years of wars and sanctions.
This map highlights the close proximity between Kuwait's Mubarak port being built on Bubyan Island and Faw where Iraq plans on building a grand port

With that vision it should have come as no surprise that Iraq was greatly angered when Kuwait started work on Mubarak. An Iraqi economist claimed that Iraq would lose 60% of its business if Kuwait’s port was built, and warned that plans for the Faw port could be scrapped as a result. The Minister of Transportation said that Mubarak was part of a conspiracy against Iraq, and that the issue should be sent to the United Nations because Mubarak encroached upon Iraqi territorial waters and contravened the international border between the two nations. Basra’s Governor Khalaf Abdul-Samad, claimed Kuwait’s port would devastate his province’s economy, and cost thousands of jobs. The Iraqi Overseas Captain told the press that traffic to Mubarak would push mud into Iraqi ports, affect its fishing, and cause a maritime traffic jam as vessels would have to travel up the same canal to reach both ports. The Iraqi parliament called for a special session on the issue, and there was a small demonstration in Basra on May 18 about it as well. Many other officials made similar comments, reflecting the general surprise and indignation that Iraq felt about Kuwait’s action. At the same time, they are making so many accusations that the only possible positive outcome for them is if Kuwait scraps Mubarak, which is not going to happen.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was forced to act. On May 17, a joint technical committee was created to deal with both ports, and a high level delegation has been put together, which will travel to Kuwait to discuss the matter soon. Since so many have framed the Mubarak-Faw issue of national importance to not only Basra, but the entire country, Baghdad had to become involved.

Kuwait so far has expressed a willingness to talk. Kuwait’s ambassador to Iraq said that his country would negotiate over the ports, and that it would even sign an agreement over the issue. The ambassador stated that Mubarak would not affect Um Qasr or Faw, and that Mubarak was 20 kilometers from any Iraqi docks, not the one or two that Iraqis claimed.

At the same time, Kuwaiti papers and analysts have made some inflammatory statements as well. The head of the Kuwait Center of Strategic Studies told Al Jazeera that Mubarak would benefit both countries. He said Iraq was incapable of building a deep water port, and that therefore Kuwait had to be the supply route for goods heading there. He went on to say that the only reason why Iraq was complaining about Mubarak was that they were pro-Iranian, and Tehran wanted to cause trouble in the region. He even said that Mubarak was safer because it was out of range of Iranian artillery while Faw would not be, as if that was going to be an issue anytime soon. A Kuwaiti paper also interviewed a local analyst who said that Iraq was controlled by Tehran, that Iran was going to annex southern Iraq, and that therefore the Persians were behind all the problems over the ports. Those comments reflect the general paranoia Kuwait, and many other Gulf States have about Iran’s influence, and their trepidation at Shiite rule in Iraq, which they associate with being under the thumb of Tehran.

What has largely been left out of the argument is the fact that Iraq itself can be blamed for much of this problem. It has been talking about building a port at Faw since 2003, with little to show for it. Former Basra parliamentarian Wail Abdul Latif claimed that the province came up with a plan for Faw right after the U.S. invasion. Plans were laid out the following year. An Iraqi news site posted a text of a government document from Iyad Allawi’s time as prime minister in 2004, which said that Baghdad had agreed to the port. Nothing happened until April 2009, when Iraq signed the design contract with Technital. On February 1, 2010, the Transportation Ministry said that it would be laying the corner stone at Faw in a few weeks, but did not do so until April 2011. In April 2010 the Ministry held a ceremony in Basra to announce that construction would start that month, but nothing happened. In fact, Technital will not be finished with its design until the end of 2011, and 2012 is when work is supposed to start. The government still doesn’t have the funding together either. Parliament has not allocated any money, and Baghdad has not raised any foreign capital. A tender is not due to be offered until the end of the year. Like too many major projects in the country, Faw has largely been talk, with little action. Iraqi politicians are acting like it is just about to become reality however, which is why they are so mad at Kuwait.

Many have tried to explain why it has taken Iraq so long to move ahead with the Faw port. The head of the economic development committee in Basra’s provincial council blamed the Transportation Ministry for never getting any money for the project. Others have said individuals and other countries have been bribing officials to hold up work. Another factor was the long delay in forming a new government after the March 2010 election. While any and all of those might have played a role, it’s also true that Iraq has gone through the American administration, and four separate governments since the Grand Faw Port was first discussed, and the only thing they have accomplished is a design contract being signed, and one stone laid down.

Iraq-Kuwait relations are characterized by taking one step towards reconciliation, and then two steps back. The Mubarak-Faw dispute is becoming a huge issue between them, and the two countries are making bold statements about each other. Iraq thinks that Kuwait is purposely undermining their economic future, while Kuwait argues their port will not have a negative affect upon Iraq, and that Baghdad is only making noise because it is controlled by Iran. Neither is quite true, but as long as they stick with those positions the argument can only escalate. Iraq is also in denial about its own lack of capacity and incompetence in following through with its plans for Faw, which have been discussed for the last eight years. The slow pace they are working at could mean that Mubarak will be a fait accompli before Iraq even begins construction on its own port. Rather than escalating the rhetoric, Iraq and Kuwait need to take a step back, conduct some technical studies upon how the two plans will affect each other, and then negotiate some compromises. That may not be possible because the politicians carry so much baggage about each other that it clouds their judgment.


Arab Times, “Kuwait to Offer Guarantees on Port Project?” Iraq Business News, 5/30/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “Kuwaiti port will affect our waters – Maritime official,” 5/25/11
- “Iraqi politicians, officials, reject Kuwait’s Mubarak Port, call for defending Iraq’s rights,” 5/29/11
- “Iraqis won’t allow building of port, affecting Iraq’s economy, MP says,” 5/17/11
- “Minister Threatens to Resign, High Ranking Delegation to Visit Kuwait This Week,” 5/25/11

Aziz, Raber and Smith, Patrick, “Economists: Kuwait port will cut Umm Qasr traffic by 60%,” AK News, 5/14/11

Dredging Today, “Iraq: Transport Minister Unveils Plan for New Grand Faw Port,” 3/28/11

Gulf Daily News, “Italian firm to build Iraq port,” 4/17/09

Hurriyet Daily, “Italian companies to build Iraq’s biggest port,” 4/6/10

Al Jazeera, “Iraq Port Row: New Plans By Kuwait Anger Iraqis,” 5/31/11

Al-Khadumi, Bahaa, “Demonstrations in Basra against Kuwaiti port,” AK News, 5/18/11

Latif, Nizar, “Kuwait trumps Iraq Gulf harbour plan with its own huge industrial port,” The National, 5/24/11

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Rafidayn, “Unprecedented Iraqi Escalation Against Kuwait Regarding Construction of Kuwait Port,” MEMRI Blog, 5/27/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No. 15,” 5/26/11

Al-Tamimi, Noor, “Proposed Kuwaiti port encroaches on Iraqi territory, says minister,” AK News, 5/26/11

Al-Wanan, Jaffar, “Emergency delegation sent to Kuwait to fight port plans,” AK News, 5/12/11


Anonymous said...

joe, the purpose of building this port by kuwait is to profit from the expected growth of imports by the reconstruction boom in the next 10 to 20 years.

If iraq closes the borders with kuwait or atleast ban the products that comes via this port, it will render it useless, with the growth of political and economic standing of iraq withim the next 10yrs, it have the power to do so.

What do u think

Joel Wing said...

I just don't see a ban as a political possibility. Iraq's economy right now is in a bad state due to the wars and sanctions, and is basically driven by oil exports, and imports of food, materials, consumer goods, etc. Cutting off trade with Kuwait, would probably lead to shortages, public anger, etc., something the government definitely wants to avoid.

Anonymous said...

There are two stories to what today argument between Iraq and Kuwaitis:

1- Tony Blair Company and his playing roll of this project as Britt companies were not been let to control Iraqi very rich oil field south

2- In early 2003 there were and story by Billy Cox "Presumably, if you're drawing oil out of Iraq, it would make more sense to go east toward the Gulf, where it could be unloaded," Bush says. "United States had run a pipeline the length of Kuwait to siphon off Iraqi oil to help finance the war."
"Presumably, if you're drawing oil out of Iraq, it would make more sense to go east toward the Gulf, where it could be unloaded," Bush says.

Joel Wing said...

I would say those are two rumors meant to blame the west for a Kuwaiti-Iraq dispute. The cause of this problem are very easy to discern. First, Kuwait is moving ahead with this plan and ignoring iraq's complaints. Secone, Iraq has been unable to develop the Faw Port plan for years, which has led Kuwait to move ahead based upon the very realistic assumption that Baghdad may never be able to complete this project in the near or even medium-term.

Anonymous said...

I would say those are two rumors meant to blame the west for a Kuwaiti-Iraq dispute.

Might you are right, but the past tell us two things:

1- April Glosspy and Saddam Meeting and her disperance without any one knows where she vanished till few yaers ago after Saddm dead...

2- You may well informed about this:
Mr. Decker is using a drilling technique developed in Texas four or five years ago. Instead of drilling straight down until he hits oil and then beginning to pump, Mr. Decker and his crew plan to turn their drill gently sideways at about 3,700 feet below the desert's surface and burrow horizontally through a great underground lake of oil encased in limestone. The horizontal method gives producers access to more of an oil reservoir.

"This will give three or four times the oil that a vertical well would produce," Mr. Decker shouted over the roar of four 1,250-horsepower diesel generator engines and the clank and whir of the mammoth drill.

So we going back to old story here on 1991 with “horizontally drilling”

Joel Wing said...

Ambassador Gillespie did a poor job in explaining the U.S. position on the Iraq-Kuwait dispute. That being said, Iraq invaded for its own reasons, and probably would have no matter what Gillespie said.

2nd, the claim of horizontal drilling was another excuse to invade Iraq. The real reasons were quite clear. 1) Iraq was broke after the Iran-Iraq War and wanted Kuwait's money and oil, 2) Saddam misinterpreted the world situation believing that he could rally the whole Arab world behind his take over because no one like the Kuwaiti family. He actually believed that he could become a regional power and that the Middle East would follow a strong, militaristic leader spouting Arab nationalism, and anti-Western rhetoric. Finally, Saddam also completely miscalculated the post-Cold War situation as well. All the talk about the border, and horizontal drilling, etc. were just excuses that were part of Iraq's propaganda campaign against Kuwait.

Anonymous said...

I do not see why you keep your denial of stories reported in different time and in different western news outlet. It has nothing to do with Iraq's propaganda just chill down.

As for Ambassador Gillespie did a poor job, it has nothing to do with her disappearance for more than 13 years from public life, it very unusual for diplomats working with state department also worked with many US senior figures been tagged as “done very a poor job” as per your claim.

Btw, horizontal drilling reported in your NYT recently with raising Oil production for Kuwaitis, may be better reading those oil reports before and after 1991 what the future of Kuwait oil production will tell more in this matter.

Anyhow looks this is not the tone you like to hear.. Good luck in your own “propaganda”

Anonymous said...

He actually believed that he could become a regional power and that the Middle East would follow a strong, militaristic leader spouting Arab nationalism, and anti-Western rhetoric.
Is he like that?
Go read his history well before 1963 cue and after, to see who helped him to come to power in 1968 again.
History never lies but people will forget it later by telling different stories.

What you thing about Mullah are they looking for a regional power in fact for the last 30 years with same anti-Western rhetoric slogans and US flags burning, what your say here?

Joel Wing said...

After serving in Iraq, Gillespie went on to work in South Africa. That was done by a simple Google search so it doesn't appear that she "disappeared."

If you don't want to believe me about Iraq's reasons for invading Iraq fine. I would just have you consider the following facts.

1) Iraq wanted to become a Middle Eastern super power after the Iran-Iraq War. That's exactly when its WMD programs began taking off.

2) Iraq came out of the Iran-Iraq War with $30 bil in war damage, and had around $5 bil in annual debt payments, which was almost half of its yearly income.

Saddam therefore came up with the idea that if he acted boldly and militarily in the region the rest of the Arab countries would fall in line behind him. Iraq also needed a huge influx of cash to pay for its reconstruction and pay off its debts. Both of those lines of thinking became focused upon Kuwait.

Iraq began talking about its Arab leadership in Feb. 90 at a meeting of the Arab Cooperation Council. That was followed by further talk about Iraq's special position, Saddam's leadership, public announcements about its WMD program, etc. in the following months.

Iraq began its propaganda campaign against Kuwait in mid-July 17 complaining about the border issue and that Kuwait was driving down the price of oil by overproducing. Iraq didn't bring up the slant drilling claim until a little later.

Anonymous said...

This is my last cent in this. I would like to be clear her I am not defending tyrant in any form, to me the problem of Iraq/Kuwait wider than taking only one tyrant and his motive.

You should well know what US, Israel interest in the region.

Joel Wing said...

Here's my final reply.

1) Gillespie's talk with Saddam has been made famous over and over again because she gave the impression that the U.S. didn't care about the Iraq-Kuwait dispute. That being said Iraq was going to invade no matter what by that time. She also didn't "disappear" afterward.

2) The slant drilling claim wasn't even the major charge Iraq had against Kuwait. It was Kuwait's policy of overproducing, calling for an increase in OPEC quotas, etc. that made up the majority of Iraq's complaints because it needed money after the Iran-Iraq War and charged Kuwait with denying it profits.

It's like taking two side issues and trying to make a whole story about it, while missing the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

while missing the bigger picture.

ولو بحثنا وقرأنا عن السيرة الذاتية

لصدام والكيفية التي وصل فيها إلى السلطة في العراق كما كتب حردان التكريتي وزير الدفاع العراقي في عهد صدام في مذكراته يقول «جرت اتصالات بيني وبين صدام حسين الذي كان قبل 30 يوليو 1968م في بيروت، وأخبرني بأن حكومتيْ كلٍّ من أميركا وبريطانيا أبدتا تعاونهما بأقصى حد لوصول «حزب البعث» العراقي للحكم في العراق ولكن بشرطين؛ الأول: أن يقدم الرئيس الجديد تعهداً خطياً بالعمل وفق ما يرسمون له. الثاني: أن يبرهنوا (أي «حزب البعث» العراقي) على قوتهم في الداخل. وقد أخبرتْهم السفارة الأميركية في بيروت أنها على استعداد للتعاون على أن نتساهل (أيْ صدام ومن معه) بعد نجاح الانقلاب في مسألة النفط مع الشركات الأميركية، ووافقنا على الشرط». انتهى كلام التكريتي،

Joel Wing said...

There were decades of political and class development in Iraq that largely pitted the landed elite against the newer urban groups. The latter were divided into several different parties that worked on and off with each other. In the post-war period there was a series of take overs of the government, including the 1968 Baath coup, which usually just exchanged one set of new party elites with another. This history is well documented and is based upon Iraqi agency. If you want to say that Iraqis didn't create their history, and instead it was all just the work of the all powerful, all-seeing, all-controlling United States go ahead.

This Day In Iraqi History - May 21 Treaty of Arzurum set line between Ottoman and Persian empires with Iraq as border area

  1847 Treaty of Arzurum tried to set border between Ottoman Empire and Persia Gave Sulaymaniya to Ottomans Shatt al-Ara...