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Karim Traboulsi

Kuwait scrambles to pre-empt fallout from south Iraq unrest

The unrest in southern Iraq is sending nervous jitters in Kuwait [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 July, 2018

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Unrest in southern Iraq has sparked unease across the border in Kuwait, as bloody protests over poor services and corruption in Basra province continue.
The unrest in southern Iraq is sending nervous jitters in Kuwait, as bloody protests in neighbouring Basra province continue to spread over poor government services and corruption and inch closer to the border.

A briefing will be held on Tuesday for lawmakers at the National Assembly on the ongoing protests in Iraq, Kuwait Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanem said over the weekend.

Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah will brief the MPs, reported the Kuwait Times, after a number of lawmakers called for the informal meeting.

The meeting will also be attended by the acting defence minister "to answer questions by lawmakers over the developments on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders and Kuwait’s preparations for all possibilities", Ghanem said.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi telephoned Kuwait's emir to assure him of the security situation in Iraq.

According to the Kuwait Times, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah offered the Iraqi leader his country's assistance to overcome the turmoil, emphasising that stability in Baghdad was "among Kuwait's chief concerns".

Iraq and Kuwait have had frought relations, the most devastating episode of which took place when Saddam Hussein invaded the small Gulf emirate in 1990. 

Although Iraq and Kuwait have since normalised their ties, Kuwait is particularly vulnerable to shocks from its bigger neighbour, and the current crisis is the most serious since the Islamic State group swept across northern Iraq in 2014. 

Kuwait's armed forces at the border have been put on high alert

'Precautionary measures'

Kuwait's armed forces at the border have since been put on high alert, but the army has said this was only a precautionary measure. 

Kuwait's overall security situation is "stable, under control, and unaffected by the ongoing events in South Iraq", the Kuwaiti army said in a statement on Saturday.

Kuwait has also advised Kuwaiti nationals in Iraqi cities - which are witnessing popular demonstrations - to avoid the protests.

"When your neighbour's house burns, you have to be careful not to be exposed to the fire or the sparks coming from that direction in the event of instability," wrote Muna al-Fuzai in the Kuwait Times on Monday.

Demonstrations erupted in Iraq on 8 July, when young protesters took to the streets in Basra to complain at a lack of job opportunities, under-investment and a lack of basic government services, including electricity and water.

The protests in southern Iraq entered their second week on Monday, with anger erupted over the government's inability to tackle unemployment and basic services.

Two people were killed in Basra on Sunday, following an incident outside the governor's headquarters, while on Friday protesters stormed Najaf's airport, prompting flight cancellations.

Although most observers say the protests are homegrown and indeed they have not spared pro-Iranian parties, Iraqi and Gulf officials and commentators have begun to express concern regarding the possibility of a "geopolitical provocation" behind them.

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