Solving The Iraq-kuwait Maritime Boundary Issues

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¶1. (SBU) In paragraphs 16 and 17 of this message, we lay
out a way forward to address Iraq’s concerns with respect to
its right to free access to the sea, including an unambiguous
statement of Iraqi rights to international waters and a
suggested expansion of the Khor Abdullah Interoperability
Protocols. The complexity of the issue (paras 2-15) may
exceed the interest of the international community in
resolving it. Nonetheless, this is an issue that currently
divides the Gulf and creates the possibility for future
tensions. This message provides a brief overview of the
history of the Iraq-Kuwait maritime border demarcation;
highlights the latest GOI positions, understandings, and
misunderstandings on the maritime border; traces the route
that a ship would take from the Persian Gulf up into the
Iraqi port of Umm Qasr; explores the specific economic and
political sensitivities to both the UNSCR 833 demarcation of
the maritime boundary and the undemarcated section; and
suggests confidence-building measures to move the
conversation past politics into a useful bilateral discussion
of technical issues that would ensure Kuwaiti sovereignty as
well as unimpeded Iraqi access to the Gulf. End summary.

History of the Iraq-Kuwait Maritime Border

&We don,t want Kuwait, but we don,t want anyone else to
have it.8 ) Sir Arthur Godley, Permanent Undersecretary,
India Office, January 1899

¶2. (U) Kuwait was established in the eighteenth century on
territory adjacent to the Ottoman Wilayat of Basra, but was
not considered part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1871, Shaykh
Abdulla Al-Sabah of Kuwait accepted the title of District
Officer of the Kuwait District in return for an Ottoman
pledge that Kuwait would retain administrative autonomy. In
1899, then-ruler Shaykh Mubarak Al-Sabah signed a secret
agreement with Britain that Kuwait would not cede or lease
any territory to another power without Britain,s approval.
In 1913, Britain and the Ottoman Empire signed the
Anglo-Ottoman Convention, which included an attached map
defining two spheres of influence of the Kuwaiti ruler,
represented as two lines on the map. The inner line, in red,
represented the portion in which the Shaykh of Kuwait would
exercise complete administrative autonomy, and the outer
line, in green, was a wider area in which the Shaykh would
collect tribute from the tribes and exercise some
administrative functions. Both the red and green lines
included the islands of Warbah and Bubiyan. So from at least
1913 on, there was an international understanding that the
islands belonged to Kuwait, but there was no discussion of
the maritime boundary between the islands and the Iraqi

¶3. (U) In 1920, the Shaykh of Kuwait affirmed his claim to
the boundary between Kuwait and Iraq as being identical to
the green line in the Anglo-Ottoman Convention map, including
the islands. In 1932, Shaykh Ahmad Al-Sabah of Kuwait and
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Said exchanged letters in which
they agreed to the same rough delineation of the boundary as
described in the 1913 Convention. The language in the 1932
Qdescribed in the 1913 Convention. The language in the 1932
letters that deals specifically with the maritime boundary
says that the boundary runs eastward (on land) from Safwan,
&passing south of Safwan Wells, Jebel Sanam and Umm Qasr,
leaving them to Iraq and so on to the junction of the Khor
Zobeir with the Khor Abdulla. The islands of Warbah,
Bubiyan, Maskan, Failaka, Auhah, Kubbar, Qaru and Umm
el-Maradim appertain to Kuwait.8 In October 1963, the Prime
Ministers of Kuwait and Iraq signed the &Agreed Minutes
regarding the Restoration of Friendly Relations, Recognition
and Related Matters,8 which recognized both Kuwait,s
independence and the boundaries specified in the 1932
letters. The GOK registered this agreement with the UN in
1964 (Document 7063, UN Treaty Series, 1964).

¶4. (U) This 1963 reaffirmation of Kuwait,s independence and

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the border stood until Saddam,s invasion in 1990, but not
without low-level irritations, mostly provoked by Iraq. In
1963, Arab League troops which had been monitoring the border
pulled out, and shortly thereafter Iraq undertook development
of naval facilities just south of Umm Qasr and some of the
now contentious farms at Safwan. A 1965 agreement to
demarcate the border fell apart in 1967 with an Iraqi demand
for Kuwait to cede Warbah and Bubiyan islands. Shortly after
Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein issued Republican
Decree 249, which redrew the boundaries of Basra Province to
include nearly half of Kuwait,s territory.

¶5. (U) UNSCR 687 of April 3, 1991, established the framework
for a cease-fire in the Gulf. It noted the 1963 boundary
agreement and the need for demarcation of the boundary,
demanded that both countries respect the inviolability of the
boundaries and allocation of islands as specified in the 1963
agreement, called on the Secretary General to make
arrangements to demarcate the boundary, and decided to
guarantee that boundary.

¶6. (U) Pursuant to UNSCR 687, the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait
Boundary Demarcation Commission was established in May 1991.
The Commission’s work culminated in a report adopted by the
Security Council in UNSCR 833 on May 27, 1993. The
Commission demarcated 162 points on the border between the
two countries, starting from point 1 at the tri-junction
point between Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, all the way
around, through the Khor Zubair, Khor Shatyana, and Khor
Abdulla waterways and out to point 162, which the UN
considered to be the mouth of the Khor Abdulla waterway. The
Commission did not demarcate or even mention any future
recommendations for demarcation past point 162 in the Gulf.
UNSCR 833 made it a point to state that the Commission was
not reallocating territory between Kuwait and Iraq, but was
carrying out the technical task of demarcating the boundary
set out in the 1963 &Agreed Minutes.8 The Security Council
reaffirmed that the decisions of the Commission were final,
and demanded that Iraq and Kuwait respect the inviolability
of the boundary and the right to navigational access.

¶7. (U) The Commission was made up of technical experts and
representatives from Iraq and Kuwait. The Iraqi delegation
to the Commission attended five sessions in 1991-1992, and
then stopped participating in July 1992. Iraqi FM Ahmad
Hussein sent a letter on July 12, 1992, to the Security
Council stating that Iraq would no longer participate in the
Commission, citing a litany of complaints (Ref B). Iraq,s
main complaint was that UNSCR 687 imposed a particular status
on the Iraq-Kuwait border while boundary issues are best left
to agreement between states. The letter also complained that
the Commission’s mandate did not extend to demarcation of the
maritime boundary in the Khor Abdulla waterway, and that the
entire process was biased against Iraq. The Commission noted
the GOI,s lack of response to requests for information or
comments after this date, but proceeded with its work. The
Commission’s Final Report was issued as an Appendix to UNSCR

GOI Understandings and Misunderstandings

¶8. (C) From recent meetings with GOI officials (Ref C and
D), it is clear that not all of our GOI interlocutors on this
issue are fully informed on the history of the delineation
Qissue are fully informed on the history of the delineation
and demarcation of the Iraq-Kuwait border, and do not have a
detailed understanding of the UN Commission’s decisions. At
the same time, they are particularly concerned about
important maritime border-related issues such as unimpeded
access to the Gulf and Iraq,s future ability to develop its
port and oil export capacity.

¶9. (C) In separate meetings on July 8, MFA Strategic
Planning Office Director Fareed Yaseen and Deputy Foreign
Minister Labeed Abbawi suggested to DCM and Deputy Pol/C that
access and other issues pertaining to the maritime boundary
be renegotiated. Both DCM and Deputy Pol/C reiterated U.S.
policy that the UNSCR 833-demarcated border is
non-negotiable. Abbawi said that the GOI wants the GOK to
lease Kuwait,s portion of the Khor Abdulla waterway to Iraq,
reprising a similar request made and turned down by Kuwait a
handful of times throughout the 20th century. Abbawi claimed
that the Kuwaitis have harassed Iraqi commercial ships
attempting to navigate the area. When pushed for more
details, Abbawi backtracked a bit, noting that Iraqi ships
had to raise the Kuwaiti flag when they entered Kuwaiti
waters as they sailed through the channel, which hurts Iraqi
national pride.

* Missing Section 003 *

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worded sentences in an exchange of letters from 1932, which
in turn was based on a line drawn on a map in 1913. That
said, in a number of critical decisions, including the exact
location of the border point south of Safwan and the way the
boundary was demarcated from Umm Qasr through the Khor
Zubair, given the options under consideration by the
Commission, the decisions favored Iraq. The fact that the
Khor Abdulla waterway boundary was demarcated at the median
(giving half the waterway to Kuwait) rather than following
the Khor Zubair demarcation using the low water point (giving
the entire waterway to Iraq) may be an irritant to Iraq,s
pride, but does not currently affect the ability of any ship
(Iraqi or otherwise) in reaching Umm Qasr or any other Iraqi
¶15. (C) The boundary issue is politically charged on both
sides and affects, and is affected by, the bilateral
relationship (Ref G). Our understanding, based on reporting
from Embassy Kuwait, is that the Kuwaitis have vivid memories
of Saddam,s invasion and are sensitive to anything that
suggests Iraq does not unequivocally accept Kuwait,s full
sovereignty. In this context, we understand from Embassy
Kuwait that Kuwait views as troubling the perceived
reluctance on the part of Prime Minister Maliki to publicly
acknowledge the UNSCR 833-demarcated border. On the Iraqi
side, Maliki and many others here point out that they, too,
were victims of the Gulf-financed Saddam regime, and that
many Iraqis resent that a percent of their country’s oil
export revenues are being used during a time of economic
hardship to pay compensation to Kuwait 18 years after the
Gulf War.

¶16. (C) A public reaffirmation of UNSCR 833 by Prime
Minister Maliki paired with Kuwait,s agreement to
significantly decrease, if not end, Iraq,s compensation
payments, would be symbolically resonant political steps that
would go a long way towards calming tensions and creating the
positive bilateral environment necessary to resolve the
basket of maritime boundary-related issues. It would also
help Iraq politically (and thus the Iraqi-Kuwaiti
relationship generally) if a new Security Council resolution
clearly reaffirmed that Iraq has right to unimpeded access to
international waters ) something that allows Iraqi leaders
to say unequivocally that Iraq is a Gulf state with open
access to the sea. Rights to &navigation8 may mean the
same thing, legally, but they do nothing politically.

¶17. (C) In the meantime, there are practical technical steps
Iraq and Kuwait could take to build confidence and lay the
groundwork for an eventual resolution of maritime issues:

— Expand the Khor Abdulla Interoperability Protocols
(KAA IP) to include dredging and maintenance of the existing
shipping channel and extend as far out into the Gulf as
possible. These protocols, signed between the Iraqi and
Kuwaiti Navies on November 11, 2008, establish basic
protocols for monitoring and reporting on vessel positions,
criminal activities and maritime incidents in the Khor
Abdulla waterway.

— GOI to send and the GOK to accept the MOU currently
held up in Prime Minister Maliki,s office on wreck removal
in the Khor Abdulla waterway. This MOU and any expansion of
the protocols mentioned above can specifically include, as
the KAA IP currently does, clauses that specify that they do
not in any way prejudice any future discussions, negotiations
Qnot in any way prejudice any future discussions, negotiations
or agreements in relation to the determination and
delineation of Kuwaiti and Iraqi territorial waters.

— A UN-mediated body along the lines of the recent UK
proposal that would review and, as appropriate, mediate
outstanding issues arising from the maritime boundary,
building upon the work done by the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait
Boundary Demarcation Commission and affirmed in resolution
833 (1993).

¶18. (U) Embassy Kuwait has cleared this cable.