Iraq and Kuwait
The two countries have had a difficult relationship since the 1950s. Iraq was under a British mandate and received its independence in 1932 while Kuwait enjoyed British protective status until independence in 1961.
In that year, which was three years after the collapse of the Iraqi Hashemite monarchy, Kuwait’s newly acquired independence was threatened by Iraqi strongman Abd al-Karim Qasim, who claimed its territory as part of Iraq. These threats prompted British troops to redeploy in Kuwait temporarily to protect the country’s sovereignty and British interests there. The United Arab Republic, comprised of Egypt and Syria, also sent troops to protect Kuwait at the behest of the Arab League and to replace British troops. Faced with these actions, Qasim eventually backed down from his threats of annexation.
Kuwaiti leaders have been wary of Iraqi designs on their oil-rich territory since that time. However, because it saw Iran as the greater threat, Kuwait aided Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War by providing Baghdad with billions of dollars’ worth of loans. After the conflict ended, Kuwait and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) asked Iraq to pay them back, which led to renewed tensions with Baghdad.
In 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein accused Kuwait of overproducing to depress oil prices as well as diagonally drilling for oil into Iraqi territory. This caused a crisis in Iraqi-Kuwaiti relations as well as in the broader Arab world. Despite mediation attempts by Egypt and others, Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait that summer and to incorporate it into Iraq, calling Kuwait Iraq’s “19th province”, and imposing a brutal occupation on the country.
This invasion then prompted the United States to send troops—initially a protective force—to Saudi Arabia while it helped to assemble a large coalition of countries, Arab and non-Arab, to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait by force in early 1991 and impose a tight sanctions regime on Iraq.
Definition of the boundary
The boundary between what is now Iraq and Kuwait has been defined in four instruments during the course of the twentieth century.
(i) Anglo-Turlcish Convention, 1913
The first formal definition of Kuwait’s northern and western boundaries was contained in the Anglo-Turkish Convention of 29 July 1913 (14), by which the British and Ottoman Government reached agreement on their respective spheres of influence in the Arabian Gulf. As part of this agreement, the status of Kuwait was settled and its boundaries fixed. Kuwait was separated from the adjacent vïlayet or province of Basra of the Otto man Empire to the north and west, by two lines.
(ii) Exchange, of letters, 1923
After the defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, it was decided by the Principal Allied Powers that the Mesopotamian provinces of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra should form the self-governing State of Iraq, and that Great Britain should administer it under a League of Nations mandate until it was ready for independence.
Owing to the strength of nationalist sentiment, a mandate agreement in the usual form, between the League and the mandatory, was not drawn up. Instead, Great Britain concluded a Treaty of Alliance in 1922 (16) with the King of Iraq, who had been installed as a constitutional monarch the previous year.
Under this agreement, the British were to provide King Faisal with advice and assistance in the administration of the country, and had the right to give binding advice to him on ail important matters affecting the international and financial obligations and interests of His Britannic Majesty. It did not define the boundaries of Iraq.
iii) Exchange of letters, 1932
The mandate for Iraq was terminated on 3 October 1932, Iraq having on the same day become an independent sovereign State and been admitted to membership of the League of Nations.
Meanwhile, at the instigation and through the intermediary of the British, an agreement had been reached between Iraq and Kuwait to reaffirm the existing frontier between the two countries, by means of an exchange of letters in July and August 1932 bet ween the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al Sa’id, and the Ruler of Kuwait
(iv) Agreement of 1963
Kuwait attained full independence on 19 June 1961. Six days later, the Iraqi leader, General Kassem, claimed sovereignty over the whole of Kuwait. British and Saudi troops went to Kuwait’s defence, to be replaced shortly afterwards by an Arab League defence force.
Following the overthrow of General Kassem in February 1963 and his replacement by President Aref, relations between Iraq and Kuwait improved; and, on 4 Oetober 1963, an agreement was entered into by which Iraq, amongst other things, ’recognized the independence and complete sovereignty of the state of Kuwait.
This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday 08th December 2020
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez