Many of the Arab leaders who headed to Amman, Jordan, this past week for the two-day Arab League summit, went there hopeful that, after a decade-old rift, a formula would be found to bridge the bitter divide between Iraq and Kuwait. They were to be disappointed.
While the summit's final declaration did call for "the lifting of the embargo on Iraq and to deal with the humanitarian issues related to the Kuwaiti prisoners and missing people and Iraqi missing people," it was an insipid compromise, accepted because no common ground could be found between Iraq and the country it had invaded in 1990.
Right up until the final hours of the summit, a group of Arab leaders, including King Abdullah of Jordan, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria, Muammar Qadhafi of Libya and Saudi Defense Minister Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz, tried to persuade Iraq’s Vice President Izzat Ibrahim to accept a three-point, middle-of-the-road resolution. It called on Iraq to fully implement all UN Security Council resolutions passed after its invasion of Kuwait, a lifting of UN economic sanctions that have been in force on Baghdad ever since, and the resumption of commercial flights in and out of Iraq.
But the Arab leaders were not prepared to back an Iraqi request for a unilateral Arab lifting on the sanctions in defiance of the United Nations, and so the Iraqis refused to go along.
To insure the issue would not be put into the deep freeze after the Amman summit, the forum asked King Abdullah, for the sake of “Arab solidarity”, to continue consulting with the governments in the region in order to improve ties between Iraq and Kuwait.
Referring to the devastating effects of the UN sanctions on his country, Iraq's Ibrahim urged that the Iraqi people’s plight would be linked to the "Palestinian people's struggle for the liberation of their territories." He added: "Any disregard of these two issues means disregarding the common basis of the Arab nation's position ... for a prosperous and peaceful present and a guaranteed future."
The Iraqi government’s refusal to bow to UN demands is largely political. Economically, the country has little to gain by taking an independent stand. The true extent of Baghdad’s economic plight is difficult to gauge, because very little reliable economic data is released, but what is known is not encouraging. A chilling detail, according to official Iraqi sources, is that some 717,000 children have died as a result of the UN sanctions.
Virtually all sectors of the Iraqi economy suffered as a result of its war with Iran during the 1980s, leaving it with a foreign debt exceeding $75 billion. Much of that money was owed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which may well have been one of the incentives for Iraq’s invasion of the latter in 1990. The Iraqi economy suffered another devastating blow by the trade embargo imposed by the United Nations after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the Gulf War in 1991.
For his part, Iraq's commerce minister recently estimated that the UN embargo against Iraq has cost the international community more than $200 billion in lost trade. Quoted by the official news agency INA, Mohammad Madhi Saleh said Russia alone lost almost $40 billion, France $35 billion, Turkey almost $30 billion, and the United States, Britain and China, each lost $25 billion.
Despite its reluctance to buck the UN trade embargo, since the oil-for-food program was Okayed in 1996, the Arab world has functioned as Iraq’s largest trading partner. Trade between Iraq and Arab countries had since reached $6.2 billion in 2000, representing 47 percent of Iraq's total trade.
For its part, Kuwait, which was forced to rebuild much of its economic infrastructure after being liberated from Iraqi occupation in 1991, is riding high. On March 26, the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK) reported that the country would post a record budget surplus of $5.6 billion at the end of the current shortened financial year, as a result of high oil prices. That is equivalent to $7.5 billion on an annualized basis.
In fact, the projected Kuwaiti budget had forecast a deficit of five billion dollars. But oil revenues were calculated at a conservative price of $13 a barrel, whereas the actual price averaged around $25.6 a barrel in the July-February period. Kuwait's current OPEC quota is 2.021 million barrels a day, but will be reduced to 1.941 million barrels from April 1. — (Albawaba-MEBG)
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