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Tue 11 Oct 2011 01:04 PM

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Kuwait denies bribe claims over Iraq port spat

Diplomatic row over rival shipping ports set to escalate, warns defence analyst

Kuwait denies bribe claims over Iraq port spat
(Photo for illustrative purposes only.)

Kuwait has denied
accusations it paid off Iraqi officials in a bid to smooth over growing
tensions between the two countries over rival sea port projects in the north of
the Gulf.

Kuwait minister for
oil Mohammad Al-Busairi said allegations the Gulf state had offered cash bribes
to fast-track development of the Mubarak Al-Kabir port were “dangerous”.

“[These claims]
could lead to dangerous consequences on bilateral relations if taken seriously,”
he was quoted as saying by state news agency Kuna.

Anyone who believed
Iraq would have accepted bribes to overlook the port “was an idiot”, said Iraq Minister of Transport,
Abdulhadi Al Ameri.

The minister had
returned a gift to Kuwait’s embassy in Baghdad following the accusations.

Tensions have
erupted between the two Arab countries following the launch of rival port
projects to serve traffic for the oil and gas fields in the north-west corner
of the Gulf.

Iraq has voiced
anger over the $1.1bn port being built by Kuwait on Bubiyan Island, saying it
interferes with shipping lanes to its own ports. Shi'ite militia in southern
Iraq warned earlier this year they would attack Kuwait if it insisted on
building the port.

Both sides have
disputed water access for the region and the animosity between the two
countries is only likely to escalate, said Theodore Karasik, director of
research at Dubai’s Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.

“Kuwait wants to
build this mega port and the Iraqi are upset by it… as it could be used by
Kuwait and other powers in terms of naval activity. That has sharpened tensions
between the two countries so you have a war of rhetoric,” he said.

“It has upset
certain parties in Basra and in the south [of Iraq] to the point where some Shiite
militia have threatened to attack workers at the port in order to make the
construction stop. They have already fired small rockets in that direction,
although it has not been confirmed.”

Kuwait was invaded
by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1991, spurring a rocky diplomatic relationship that
continued despite the ouster of the Iraq leader in the US-led invasion in 2003.

The UN Security Council ordered Iraq to compensate countries
that suffered as a result of its 1990-1991 occupation of neighbouring Kuwait,
requiring Baghdad to set aside five percent of its oil revenues for reparations
payments, most of which go to Kuwait.