A modest attempt of rapprochement between Iraq and Kuwait took place [during the third week of January] thanks to an initiative undertaken by the Arab Media Forum and its secretary general, the famous Kuwaiti journalist Madi el-Khamis. The latter called on a number of intellectuals and journalists in both countries to participate in a two-day dialogue forum in Kuwait.
[This forum] opened a window of great opportunity. The participants listened to each other's views. [They also expressed] their sometimes on the problems [plaguing the relations between the two countries] and put forth solutions to these problems. An important fact to note is that the forum’s participants attended independent of any official or political constraints. In fact, no official party representatives of other [government bureaucrats] were present. Instead, independent authors and journalists attended the meeting and were able to freely express their views and state what they believed was appropriate and useful for the purification of the atmosphere between the two countries.
[The forum] encouraged sincere, straight to the point discussions. The ambassadors from the two countries attended as observers and replied to the audience’s questions about the reasons behind the lag in reformulating relations. The Kuwaiti government attaches great importance to the development of the relations with Iraq. The Kuwaiti ministers of foreign affairs and information joined [the forum] on the second day and reiterated their government’s commitment to bettering relations with Iraq, stating policies that the [Kuwaiti] government has implemented in order to do so. [They declared] that Kuwait is looking forward to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visit [in February].
Throughout the dialogue, the Iraqis were unanimous in affirming that their country does not seek to take advantage of Kuwait on a political or social level. [They clarified that] most of Iraqis are fond of Kuwait and its people, and that they respect the sovereignty of this country. This was the sentiment of Iraqis even before [Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991], which most of the population opposed.
The best proof of [opposition to the 1991 invasion] is the uprising that took place [in Baghdad] directly after the invasion, protesting against Saddam’s regime and voicing growing opposition to his [policies], inside or outside of [Iraq]. However, Kuwaitis are still concerned about some of the Kuwaiti-skeptic views held by certain Iraqi, which are sometimes broadcasted in the [Iraqi] media. The problem lies in the fact that some [Kuwaitis] take that these voices as a representation of the views of a majority of Iraqis, even though this is not the case. In every country around the globe, including Kuwait and countries in Europe, America and Asia, a few extremists who do not represent public opinion have always been present. These extremists should be allowed to express their views, provided they do not fuel violence or incite hatred. [All participants] agreed that such views should not hinder the development of the relations between two brotherly neighbors, and agreed that the two countries have much to offer to both each other and to the region as a whole, through collaboration and cooperation.
However, there are no signs of this [much spoken of] development in relations. Iraqis still face great difficulties in obtaining a visa to enter Kuwait. Many Iraqis wish to visit Kuwait for purposes of tourism, shopping or even just for a temporary stay if they are financially capable of it. These individuals remain prey to their visa dilemmas. [Making matters difficult is the fact that] the Kuwaiti Embassy in Baghdad cannot issue visas without the permission of the central government. [This is not the case] the Iraqi embassy in Kuwait, which according to Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr al-Ulum issued 7,000 visas to Kuwaiti citizens last year.
I raised the issue [of visas] at the forum in the presence of the Kuwaiti ministers of foreign affairs and information and the ambassadors of the two countries. I stated that the problems hampering the development of the Iraqi - Kuwait relations could be solved through direct negotiations between the two governments, regardless of how long [these negotiations] will take. [The issues blocking a bettering of relations include]: Compensation [for Iraq’s 1990 invasion]; an end to the provisions of Chapter 7 [of the UN Charter, which deems Iraq a threat to international security and requires sanctions to be imposed upon it]; the demarcation of borders and [tensions] surrounding the port of Mubarak. However, the most pressing issue is that of opening up the two countries to each other and facilitating circulation [of business and capital] between them so that [Iraq] may benefit from the current economic upswing [being witnessed by the Arab world].
Two weeks ago I visited the province of Basra, near the Kuwaiti border. I spoke to a number of businessmen from Basra who expressed their desire to shop in Kuwait, as it is closer than the neighboring Iraqi provinces of Nasiriyah and Amarah. They [told me] that they would like to benefit from Kuwaiti enterprises, expertise and facilities, and that they would like to see [Kuwaiti businesses] involved in the development projects currently underway in the province. However, they mentioned that the main obstacle is the visa to Kuwait. This forces them to go to [the further removed Iraqi provinces].
Kuwait would benefit from the expansive economic opportunities in Iraq. In turn, Iraq would benefit from Kuwaiti [industrial] facilities. [All that is needed is for] the decision makers of both countries to open a new page exclusively based on the development of their common interests.
Some [Iraqis] do not want to see these relations develop because they suffered from the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, [despite the fact that their government now has new priorities]. Some Kuwaiti statements condemned the meeting between Iraqi and Kuwaiti journalists and intellectuals for unknown reasons. Meanwhile others [in Iraq] accused participants of "bargaining," and Kuwait of "luring" and "bribing" Iraqis!
There is no doubt that these people do not feel concerned for the future of Iraq. They do not care about its interests and do not want to move forward and away from the past. They fear that one of the former regime’s crimes will be exposed. It was in fact this regime that deprived Iraq of all means of development, trade opportunities and decent living for three decades, ruining its relations with all countries of the region without exception.
I do not think that there are many in Iraq or elsewhere who can believe that intellectuals, writers, journalists and poets such as Rashid al-Khayoun, Fadel Thamer, Adnan Hussein, Mufid al-Jazairi, Ali Hassan al-Fawaz, Mohammad Abdul Jabbar, Zuhair Dujaili and Oryan al-Sayed Khalaf and Faeq al-Sheikh Ali, so well-reputed in Iraq and in the Arab region as a whole, can harm Iraq or its national interest.
Kuwait is not Iraq’s enemy. It is its sister and neighbor and the two countries have close and historic relations. [In any case], tense relations with Kuwait can only be more harmful to Iraq.
Finally, the Iraqi and Kuwaiti peoples want their governments to ignore the extremists, and continue to take bold actions towards developing their relations. This will open windows of great opportunity to everyone.