x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Cautious optimism

Relations between Iraq and Kuwait are improving, but the hard feelings should not be underestimated, says an Arabic-language writer. Other topics: Turkey, US policy on Yemen.

Relations between Iraq and Kuwait improving, but hard feelings must not be underestimated

Kuwait's prime minister, Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Hamad Al Sabah, was in Iraq last week to discuss ways to boost bilateral relations, in yet another sign that there is a genuine willingness on both sides to bury the hatchet after the 1990 Iraqi invasion that sparked the second Gulf War, wrote Ahmed Youssef Ahmed, the director of the Cairo-based Institute of Arab Research and Studies, in yesterday's edition of the Emirati newspaper Al Ittihad.

Despite positive signs, there are several sticking points between the two countries that could have been resolved by politicians, which are still cause for soreness at the popular level, especially on the Iraqi side, Mr Ahmed wrote.

During the Kuwaiti premier's visit, six memoranda of understanding and two other agreements were signed between the two nations, covering diplomatic, cultural and educational relations as well as cooperation on environment, economy and air transport.

Last year, the Emir of Kuwait paid a landmark visit to Baghdad, where he attended an Arab League summit to which many other Arab heads of state only sent representatives.

But three major issues must be settled before one can claim that the air is clear between Iraq and Kuwait, the author said.

First is the border issue. The border between the two countries was demarcated upon mutual agreement - but not without reservations in Baghdad - following the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in February 1991.

Iraqis at that time felt that Kuwait had nibbled at sections of their own land, and, although politicians still honour the border agreement, ordinary Iraqis are not ready to forget that time, the writer said.

"This means that one day Iraq's official stance on the border might change, should the country undergo some fundamental developments."

Then, there is the multibillion-dollarcompensation that the Iraqi government has been paying in instalments to Kuwait for the invasion and its ensuing damage, as per a United Nations injunction.

Again, Iraqi people have been uneasy about the billions of dollars coming out of their oilfields, with about $11 billion (Dh40.4 billion) to go.

"Iraqis apparently thought that, given the rapprochement between the two nations, Kuwait will give up its right on the remainder of the compensation," Mr Ahmed wrote.

The third point of concern has to do with Kuwait's Mubarak Al Kabeer Port, which is being built just across the border from an Iraqi port development.

Kuwait's mega port project has angered Iraqis who believe it will eat into more than half of Iraq's port traffic, because of the proximity. So, clearly, areas where soreness still lingers must not be ignored as Kuwait and Iraq work on mending fences.

Are protests part of a plot against Turkey?

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is trying to convince his supporters that there is a "foreign dimension" to the protests that have rocked the country for the past three weeks, wrote columnist Samir Salha in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Addressing a rally in Istanbul recently, Mr Erdogan accused western think tanks of conspiring with local elements to push Turkey towards implosion, the columnist said. "We agreed on the solutions and they promised to evacuate [Taksim Square], and all of a sudden there they were, dawdling under foreign pressure to stay at the square," the author quoted Mr Erdogan as saying.

Indeed, Mr Erdogan has become convinced that Turkey is being targeted by foreign parties that envy its economic progress and political prestige. He cited mega projects that the country was launching, including a $46 billion international airport in Istanbul; $22bn worth of contracts to build the nation's third nuclear power plant; and plans to build the world's largest suspended bridge in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, the Ankara Municipality estimated that the capital alone had sustained "billions" of dollars in material damages. He asked: "What does protecting trees in a park have to do with … attacking stores and government buildings?"

So is this thing about "defending a popular park" or a foreign conspiracy, the writer asked.

American activists slam Washington in Yemen

While the Obama administration is busy defending its recently uncovered Prism programme - through which phone and email logs of US and foreign citizens are gathered for security purposes - a delegation from the anti-war US group, Code Pink, was in Yemen this week condemning Washington's brutish foreign policy, the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram said in an editorial yesterday.

Washington is itself practising terrorism as it launches deadly drone strikes and throws suspects in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison without charge, the seven-member delegation reportedly said during the visit.

In a show of solidarity with the families of Yemeni prisoners detained in Guantanamo, Code Pink members took part in a protest on Monday outside the US embassy in Sanaa.

They criticised the Obama administration for delaying the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the newspaper said.

Shutting down the prison was one of President Obama's election campaign promises.

"By sharing part of the ordeal that these Yemeni families are going through, the members of the group have proven that not all Americans support their government's counterterrorism-cum assassination policies," Al Ahram said.

* Digest compiled by Achraf Al Bahi