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Iraq: Kuwaiti Envoy Says War Compensation Should Continue

An oil well burning in Kuwait in 1991 (file photo) Iraq is pressing for a reevaluation of its compensation payments for damages caused by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait 15 years ago. But Kuwait insists the payments continue for tens of billions of dollars it was awarded by an international panel. Kuwait's ambassador to the UN told RFE/RL her country is willing to relieve a large portion of Iraqi sovereign debt and has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Iraq's reconstruction. But the compensation payments, she says, are another matter.

Washington, 11 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's oil revenues, if they are freed from creditor claims, are to be crucial in funding billions of dollars in estimated reconstruction costs and attracting investment.

But the UN Security Council has mandated that 5 percent of those revenues be paid out to countries, individuals, or businesses harmed by Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. More than $33 billion in awarded claims is still due, most of it to Kuwait, which endured the Iraqi occupation and burning of its oil fields when Iraqi forces left.

The UN Compensation Commission, responsible for ruling on claims, made its final judgments at the end of June. Iraq wants the claims reduced but the commission says any such moves need to be resolved between Iraq and the parties involved. Kuwaiti officials insist the payments -- estimated at $200 million per quarter -- continue.

Kuwaiti UN Ambassador Nabeela al-Mullah told RFE/RL that Kuwait carries on a dialogue with Iraq's leaders on a range of matters. But she suggests the compensation issue will not be settled bilaterally.

"It's a very frank, very good atmosphere with them so I don't think we have any problem to talk with the Iraqis," al-Mulla said. "But let's put everything in perspective. What is in the realm of international community, like the compensation commission, we deal with it that way."

The ambassador says Kuwait is willing to share awards for environmental damage with a group of regional states affected by the 1990 war. Those countries include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait.

Al-Mullah said they had agreed to an Iraqi proposal to collectively implement projects to address environmental damages. She did not have an estimate of money allotted for this. The last decision by the commission awarded $256 million to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait as compensation for environmental damages.

"We are united together in the objective to help each other, so even if there is a lump sum of payment for environmental damage we all stand to share from the money that will come there and we will make collective decisions and it will be presented to the compensation commission," she said.

Aside from the war reparations, Iraqi officials say they inherited about $125 billion in debt from Hussein's regime. The Paris Club of creditor countries in November decided to cancel 80 percent of the nearly $40 billion of debt Iraq owes them.

The Kuwaiti government has said it would follow suit and write off most of Iraq's $16 billion in sovereign debt. No decision has been made yet.

Ambassador al-Mullah says Kuwait has also provided Iraq with $500 million in rehabilitation funds pledged at a 2003 donors' conference. It has contributed other money through the UN Development Program and other agencies and has been a prime supporter of the rehabilitation of Al-Najaf and Karbala.

Al-Mullah suggests Kuwait has not received proper credit for its support for Iraq. "I don't think anyone can fault us on not being a positive factor when it comes to the Iraqi people and besides that over $500 million are already there for Iraq and I don't think everyone is aware of that," she said.

The ambassador says Kuwait has also waited patiently for Iraq to resolve two highly sensitive issues -- the recovery of more than 600 prisoners taken to Iraq and the return of Kuwait's national archives.

"We are aware that Iraq has this specific problem of getting its own house in order so we're giving them time to find the archives, to find the other remains of our prisoners. We still have -- out of 605 we got 200 plus -- so over 400 are still not accounted for of our own prisoners so we are still trying to clarify all these issues without hyping, without making headlines in any newspaper," she said.

The remains of some of the missing prisoners were discovered soon after Hussein's ouster.

Kuwait also considers the return of the archives essential because they constitute official records of the country. The missing documents include papers from the offices of the Royal Court, the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Ministry.

See also:

UN Says Kuwait War Claims Now A Bilateral Matter

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".