Construction of a port near Iraq's coast is moving ahead as scheduled despite increasingly vocal opposition from Baghdad, government engineers said this week, according to a report in The National.
Iraqis say the Mubarak al Kabeer port being built by Kuwait on Boubyan [Bubyan] Island will strangle their own shipping industry by blocking access to the sea through the narrow Khawr Abdullah waterway.
The perceived threat to Iraq's shipping lanes has led members of the Iraqi parliament to campaign against the Kuwaiti project and Iraqi citizens to protest against it in the coastal city of Basra.
Alsumaria TV also reports that Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades and the Sadrist Front have threatened firms contributing to new Kuwaiti port.
Ghalib Safouq, the engineer in charge of the port's construction, said this week: "They have some doubts. We are explaining it to them." Mr Safouq said the Kuwaiti government provided an Iraqi delegation with detailed plans of the port, which is in the early stages of construction, to prove it is of no threat to the Iraqi shipping industry.
Kuwait cannot change the timetable aimed at opening the facility with four berths in March 2016, Mr Safouq said.
Hadi Al Amari, Iraq's transportation minister, said this month that the construction of the port "demonstrates the clear intention of Kuwait to block shipping lanes from Iraqi ports and contradicts UN resolutions .... We say we will not accept that Basra and Iraq be strangled in any way," the minister said, according to Agence France-Presse.
An Iraqi diplomatic source said the government has not yet commented on the issue officially, but added that an announcement is expected from Baghdad soon.
Kuwait's parliamentarians have been vocal in demanding that the government follows through with the development. MP Jamaan al Harbash said: "Any backing down from the construction of the Mubarak port is a backing down from Kuwait's sovereignty.
Kuwait hopes to eventually expand Mubarak al Kabeer to a size that would make it the largest port in the northern Gulf. The main rival to the new facility could be from Iraq itself - the multibillion dollar Grand Faw Port planned for the opposite side of the waterway.
The planners of both facilities hope to eventually link the ports with rail networks that will enable cargo to travel from the east to the ports and then overland to the Levant or Europe, providing shippers an alternative to the Suez Canal.