Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Kuwait Wednesday (February 16th) in a historic visit that both countries hope is another step toward improving relations.
Al-Maliki met with the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed. The leaders discussed ways to develop political and economic relations.
The trip is al-Maliki's first visit to Kuwait since the beginning of his second term. Last month, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed made the first visit to Iraq by a Kuwaiti prime minister since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
During a meeting with Kuwaitis and the Iraqi community, al-Maliki said, "Saddam's era was a tragedy, but it has ended."
He added, "Our two governments decided that the state of affairs between us and our brothers in Kuwait must improve, be it the dues, the debts or the borders." He called on Kuwaiti businessmen to invest in Iraq again.
Kuwait Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, said the visit was "historic", stressing that "this was the first time the two sides spoke frankly and directly about issues under consideration".
Mohammad al-Sabah said, "The meetings included discussions of Iraq's debts to Kuwait", adding "this matter requires legislation and needs to be referred to the National Assembly".
Zebari said, "We discussed all the unresolved issues related to Iraq's obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 833, regarding border demarcations, the fate of missing Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti properties, and requirements from the Iraqi side. We discussed debt and compensation for Iraqi farmers on the border who will be affected by border demarcation, opening a Kuwaiti consulate in Basra, and property owned by our Kuwaiti brothers in Iraq."
He said that "Iraq has a set of obligations which must be met in order to completely be exempted from the provisions of Chapter VII [the United Nations statute which requires Iraq to pay reparations to Kuwait for the first Gulf War], and that there is a favourable reaction and willingness to help Iraq in this endeavour".
Iman Hamadi, an MP from the al-Iraqiya List, said the visit is "historic and marks a turning point in Iraq's relations with Kuwait. It is also a step in the right direction to resolve past issues."
Abbas al-Bayati, an MP from the Iraqi National Coalition, said, "The visit was successful, and the unresolved issues between the two countries were discussed honestly." He added, "The Iraqi government is determined to end all outstanding issues with Kuwait this year."
Al-Bayati added, "There will be economic, political and security agreements. Committees will be formed to follow up and ensure their success. There is no doubt that today's visit sends a clear message that the Iraqi democratic system seeks to develop its relations with its Arab neighbours and the world."
Ibrahim al-Najjar, a professor of political science and economics at Kuwait University, expects Kuwaiti investments to return to Iraq, referring to the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister's comments about creating "huge projects in the Arabian Gulf and Iraq's idea to build a large port in Al Faw. Kuwait has already begun developing the Boubyan Port (Mubarak al-Kabeer Port) project, which will draw a lot of ship traffic."
Al-Najjar told Al-Shorfa that more time is needed to restore full trust between the two countries, especially regarding debts and borders. He said the issues will become clearer during the second round of meetings for the Joint Kuwaiti-Iraqi Committee scheduled for March 13th-14th in Iraq.
He also pointed to the visit's symbolic meaning because it coincides with Kuwait's celebrations of the 50th anniversary of National Day, the 20th anniversary of its liberation from Saddam Hussein's invasion, and the commemoration of the 5th anniversary of assumption of power by Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad.
Iraqi President Jalal Talibani is also planning to visit Kuwait soon to participate in National Day celebrations.
Shafeeq Ghabra, a professor of political science at Kuwait University and a journalist, said al-Maliki's visit to Kuwait is "positive in every way, especially his visit to the National Assembly and his meeting with members of parliament which helps to break the ice between the two sides".
He added, "It was necessary for the two sides to attempt to resolve the outstanding issues between them before taking any other step, including missing people and the borders. Exchanging visits in the next phase will contribute greatly to the restoration of trade relations between the two countries, which will contribute to better economic conditions in both countries and worldwide because of the wealth in each country."