Monday, May 30, 2011

Foreign and Transport Ministers to face parliament over Kuwaiti port

Sulaimaniyah, May 24 (AKnews) - The Iraqi parliament is expected to summon Iraq's Foreign Affairs and Transport Ministers to tackle the issue of a planned Kuwaiti port which is feared to cost Iraqi ports 60% of their traffic.Basra ports

Kuwait announced plans to build the Mubarak port next to Iraq's main Umm Qasr port in the gulf two weeks ago outraging Iraqi lawmakers, in particular, number of Shia politicians who have pledged to take action against the Kuwaiti government.

"It is expected that after the parliamentary recess (which ends late May), Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Transport Minister Hadi al-Amiri will be summoned to parliament to discuss the issue," said Bakir Hama Sadiq, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi house of representatives.

"If Kuwait plans to build the port on the Bubyan island, then Iraq's water route will be gone and any ship movement in the Umm Qasr and Khaw Zuber ports will not be possible," said Hama Sadiq.

Bubyan island

A joint committee between Kuwait and Iraq was expected to convene and solve the problem jointly, however, "Kuwait insists on building the Mubarak port," Hama Sadiq added.

The MP suggested that Iraq and Kuwait should each make compromises: Kuwait could build the port with Iraq's consent, but the port must not threaten Iraq's marine activity.

"The issue between Kuwait and Iraq over the Mubarak port is partially related to transportation and partially to diplomatic relations, therefore, both Zebari and al-Amiri will clarify the issue in parliament so that we understand what is going on and then see where we stand," said fellow Kurdish deputy, Mahmood Osman.

Iraq has witnessed protests against the construction of the port, particularly in the port city of Basra, 550 km south of Baghdad, calling on the Iraqi government to intervene and stop Kuwait going ahead with their plans.

Iraqi economists have warned that the Iraqi ports could lose 60% of their business as the Kuwaiti port will paralyze their traffic.

At least one Shia political bloc has been highly critical of the Kuwait port plan and has vowed to take action.

Earlier this week, an Iraqi parliamentarian from the Ahrar bloc, loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, warned that his list was ready to act in a way that will "surprise all the political blocs" in Iraq in reaction to the proposed construction of the Kuwaiti port.

The foreign relations committee in the Iraqi Parliament has warned that xenophobic statements targeting Kuwait should be guarded against in order to avoid tensions in bilateral relations with the neighboring state.

Written by Raber Y. Aziz, Idris Abu Bakir contributed to this story

24/05/2011 09:55


Sadrists promise "surprise" response to Kuwaiti port issue

Basra, May 21 (AKnews) - An Iraqi parliamentarian from the Ahrar bloc, loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has warned that his list is ready to act in a way that will "surprise all the political blocs" in Iraq in protest over the construction of a Kuwaiti port that's expected to threaten the trade of Iraq's principal port in Basra.Basra ports

The dispute over Kuwait's Mubarak port, positioned close to Iraq's main port in Basra, 550 km south of Baghdad, goes back to two weeks ago when Kuwait announced its plans for the hub which Iraqi economists said would cost the Iraqi ports 60% of their traffic.

Kuwait plans outraged Iraqi lawmakers, in particular, Shia politicians leading to a heated debate over whether Kuwait has the right to build the port or if the management of shared waters should be a joint operation.

Awwad Uday, a Sadrist MP from Basra, said his bloc had "taken a path no other bloc had taken towards the Kuwaiti port issue".

"Ahrar bloc, under instructions from its leader Moqtada al-Sadr, is preparing for action towards Kuwait that will surprise all political parties in Iraq regarding the Mubarak port," Uday said.

Uday's statement comes as the foreign relations committee in the Iraqi Parliament warned last week that xenophobic statements targeting Kuwait should be guarded against to avoid tensions in bilateral relations.

"All Iraqi parties and communities, whether political or social, are waiting for the (Sadrist) Current to take action or decisive move that would resolve this issue in favor of Iraq, after the government failed to do so and blessed the construction by Kuwait" The Sadrist Mp said.

Last week, Basra province witnessed protests against the construction of the Mubarak port, calling on the Iraqi government to intervene and stop Kuwait going ahead with their plans.

Relations between Iraq and the Gulf States had already been ruffled by statements issued by Iraqi Shia MPs over the protests in Bahrain where the Shia majority came ot in protest against their Sunni rulers.

Iraq was on track to join the economically powerful Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) but it is believed its bid was rejected due to the stance taken by the political blocs and the demonstrations organized by some Iraqi deputies, most notably in the Shia-dominated cities of Najaf and Karbala.

The Omani minister of foreign affairs told AKnews last week that Iraq's rejected bid to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was due to its "unwise" political approach.

The position of the Shia Iraqi lawmakers sparked criticism at home also. Sunni Arabs said such a stance would adversely affect Iraqi-gulf relations and the reconciliation process between Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq still pays large sums of compensation to Kuwait each year following the Saddam Hussein-led 1991 invasion of the neighboring state.

But the Sadrist MP confirmed that the Sadr Current "pledges to the Iraqi people not to allow any party or state to harm the Iraqi economy...whatever the result"

Written by Raber Y. Aziz, reporting by Nour anl-Tamimi (AKnews)

21/05/2011 11:19

Likely behind the curtains US-Iraqi deal sparks controversy

Baghdad, May 19 (AKnews) – An Independent Iraqi lawmaker's assumption that the Iraqi government is planning to strike a deal with the US in August to keep some 20,000 US troops in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline has sparked a row between the political blocs.US troops in Iraq, US army in Iraq

The Kurds believe that the presence of American forces in Iraq, particularly in the disputed areas, may help to prevent ethnic tensions from developing into a conflict, while a Shia bloc, following the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, remains vehemently opposed the US military remaining.

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army waged a deadly war against the US forces and the Iraqi army in 2004 following the closure of Mr. Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him.

The Sunni Arabs have also voiced disapproval of the US forces presence beyond 2011 in Iraq. The Sunnis lost their 30-year grip of power in the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"There is an ongoing behind the curtains agreement between Baghdad and Washington to extend the stay of 20,000 US troops" says maverick parliament member Sabah al-Sa'idi, "this is no media leak, but agreements between the political blocs to hold on to the seats of power".

Al-Sa'idi says the Iraqi forces can maintain security and that security commanders have been pressed upon by the higher authorities.

He accused the "invading forces" of "looting the wealth of the country".

Meanwhile, the U.S. claim to stick to their plans to pull all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year, the woman in charge of leading the reconstruction of Najaf for the U.S. said today.

Karen Malzahn, director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, told AKnews: "Until now there are no changes or updates to the withdrawal. Things are moving towards the application of Strategic Framework Agreement terms."

The US currently keeps some 47,000 soldiers in Iraq who are expected to leave the country by the end of Dec. 2011 as agreed upon by Iraq and the US in a 2008 accord.

A member of the Kurdish Blocs Coalition (KBC) in Baghdad, Ashwaq Jaf, said Iraq needs a new deal to keep some of the US forces to maintain security in the disputed areas.

"Those areas need neutral forces to prevent the bloodshed of all the present communities," said Jaf, "and until article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is fully implemented, thus resolving many of the issues".

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution outlines a three-stage process to resolving the disputes over areas contested by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad.

The process involves a period of normalization – whereby the security environment is stabilized – followed by the restoration of the original demographic balance (which was altered by the former Iraqi regime, often at the expense of indigenous Kurds), and culminating with a referendum, which will enable the local people to decide on the constitutional status of these areas.

The KBC spokesman said earlier today that describing the US forces as "invaders" is "illegal" because they are in Iraq under a US-Iraqi agreement having "freed" Iraq from the former dictator in 2003.

The Sadrists by contrast have expressed strong opposition to the US presence in Iraq.

The Sadr bloc has threatened on several occasions to mobilize the Mahdi Army which was frozen in 2006 by al-Sadr as a precondition to engaging in the political process.

A member of the Ahrar bloc that follows Moqtada al-Sadr, Uday Awwad told AKnews: "Moqtada al-Sadr will take a stance if a new agreement is struck to keep the US forces in Iraq beyond the end of this year".

He did not rule out his bloc withdrawing from the government if the suspected deal is real.

The Sadrist MP said his bloc would organize rallies across many Iraqi provinces to to press on the government and the parties that want to uphold any deal that extends the "invading forces'" stay in Iraq.

The Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya list, however, has voiced concern that Iran might meddle in Iraq if the US forces withdraw. List member, Wahda al-Jumaili, expressed concern that the Iraqi forces might not be ready to take over security responsibilities.

"Iran has aspirations in Iraq and will fill the vacuum that the US forces leave behind," al-Jumaili said.
She also said that there are already parties that "implement its (Iran's) agenda in the (Iraqi) political process".

Iraqi army chief, Babakir Zebari, a Kurd, has several times said that his forces will not be ready to protect Iraq's borders, air space and waters before 2020.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, said a few days ago that the issue of the US forces remaining in Iraq will be deiced by the political bloc leaders.

Written by Raber Y. Aziz, reporting by Hadi al-Issami


19/05/2011 17:36


NC deputy: Iraqi leaders privately seek U.S. military extension

Erbil, May 14 (AKnews) – While publicly calling for US withdrawal from Iraq, most Iraqi leaders prefer the extension of U.S. forces stay in Iraq, says Ali Hussein al-Tamimi, an Iraqi member of troops withdrawal iraq hilla

Tamimi, an independent MP who belongs to the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, states that politicians favor a longer U.S. mission to secure their own careers.

"Under the pretext of training the Iraqi security forces, political leaders in Iraq are calling for the extension of U.S. forces in the country, in order to maintain their own power", said Tamimi, who has no prior record of statements on this issue.

The "U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) from 2008 has set a time-table for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. According to SOFA, the last U.S. soldier has to leave by December 31st, 2011.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, though he did not publicly state his position towards a U.S. military extension, said on Thursday, the decision would be up to the political leaders.

Maliki said, the government would ask parliament to vote for a resolution on this issue, if a majority of the leaders wants to keep U.S. forces beyond 2011 and has made a decision about the details – such as the number of troops and where they will be stationed.

Iraqi parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi and Iraq's military chief Babakir Zebari have already voiced their support for the U.S. stay extension.

Zebari, chief of general staff of the Iraqi army, said in an interview with AKnews earlier that the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq before 2020 will greatly harm the country because Iraq can not protect its air space, waters and borders at least for another nine years

Persistently voicing calls for the U.S. withdrawal are the Sadrists – followers of the hard-line Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Last month, Sadr threatened to mobilize his frozen Mahdi Army – a militia strictly loyal to Sadr, which was engaged in deadly clashes with the U.S. and Iraqi forces in southern provinces following the 2003 closure of Sadr's newspaper and attempts to arrest him.

Sadr froze the Mahdi Army in 2007 as a precondition to engaging in the political process

A member of the Sadr Current's Ahrar Bloc, Amir al-Kinani, told AKnews that "the security situation in Iraq will improve upon the US forces withdrawal".

"Iraqi military commanders, throughout history, have been fighting to liberate their land from foreign invasion and not been calling for an extension of their stay", he said in reference to Zebari's concerns about the US forces departure.

"Eight years after the fall of the Iraqi regime, the security forces should be ready to maintain security and protect the country", Kinani said.

The United States have currently 47.000 soldiers in Iraq, about a fourth of its force level during the invasion of 2003.

Writing by Raber Y. Aziz, contribution form Karzan Karim


14/05/2011 15:59


Economists: Kuwait port will cut Umm Qasr traffic by 60%

Baghdad, May 14 (AKnews) – Iraq's main port will lose 60 per cent of its business and major new port plans will be scuppered if Kuwait goes ahead with plans to develop a port just across its border with the country, economists have said.

ship docking at umm qasr port‭, ‬basra
The Kuwaitis laid the foundation stone to kick off the construction of Mubarak port, just over the border from the site of a new Iraqi port currently in construction, and close to Umm Qasr, Basra, Iraq's only deep water port last Tuesday.

The move has flared historic tensions between the two states.

Faleh Kadhim, an Iraqi ports expert, said the Kuwaiti port plans are in reaction to Iraq's attempts to compete with the Red Sea route currently used for most goods traveling from East Asia to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, through the construction of Al Faw Grand Port, together with a new railway system.

The US$6 billion Iraqi project is part of a drive to modernize public infrastructure and kick-start Iraq's economy now that major new oil contracts have been signed. Goods would be able to reach Europe overland more quickly than ships might reach Egypt's Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

Research carried out by Iraqi economist Riyadh Jawad indicated a 60 per cent drop in Umm Qasr traffic was likely and the viability of the new port challenged.

He said: "This will be devastating for Iraq's plans. The government has to sign a long-term agreement with Kuwait to jointly administer water routes between the two countries, in addition to implementing strategic water projects that would enhance the capacity of both countries without affecting each other."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the formation of an emergency committee to travel to Kuwait immediately to tackle the dispute between the two countries.

Member of the International Arab Maritime Organization (AMO) Yasin Abd al-Ilah said: "Mubarak Port... will steal Basra's main port's economic value as vessels will be blocked from entering into the deeps of the Khawr Abdullah (joint Iraqi-Kuwaiti waters).

"The Emergency Committee set up by the government needs to move quickly to overcome the crisis between the two countries. Iraq needs to open a new page with Kuwait in economic relations."

Mubarak port will be built on Boubyan Island in Kuwait, just a few kilometers away from the site of the Al Faw project, by Korean company Hyundai. It is projected to reach completion by 2016 at a cost of $1.1bn and will process 1.8m containers a year by 2015.

Iraq-Kuwait relations have just started to normalize after efforts to resolve Saddam-era conflicts.

Joint committees have recently been formed to address major issues currently blocking reconciliation, including the payment of reparations to Kuwait for the Gulf war, the disputed position of the border, Kuwaitis missing in Iraq since the conflict and the management of joint-owned oil fields.

The Ministry of Transportation claims that other countries in the region are lining up to voice their opposition to the plans due to the projected effect it will have on their economic interests and the traffic through their ports.

Iraq has five commercial ports and two oil ports, Umm Qasr is currently the only one capable of dealing with deep water vessels.

By Raber Y. Aziz and Patrick Smith

14/05/2011 14:25