Minister Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraqi Government Spokesman, was interviewed by Padraig O'Hannelly for Iraq Business News at last week's Iraq Mining 2011 conference in London. In this first part of the interview, Dr al-Dabbagh discusses the controversial Mubarak port:
Iraq Business News: Firstly, Dr Ali al-Dabbagh, thank you for agreeing to speak to us. I'd like to start with a question regarding the Mubarak al-Kabir [Kabeer] port project in Kuwait: There have been some reports in recent days that that whole issue has been resolved, that it's not going to affect shipping into Iraq and so on. Can you confirm Iraq's position on the project?
Dr Ali al-Dabbagh: The Government of Iraq has not yet given its final opinion about the Mubarak port. We do feel that there is a negative affect on our navigation lines, and the issue briefly is that the strait, which is 8km wide, is split in half – half to Kuwait and half to Iraq – as per Resolution 833 of the United Nations. The Iraqi side is very shallow, and not suitable for shipping; the Kuwaiti side has a [section] which is suitable for navigation, and it is only used by Iraqi vessels crossing to Umm Qasr. Kuwaitis never use this side.
The [UN] resolution gives the right to Iraq to navigate through the Kuwaiti water without paying any fees and without raising any Kuwait flags, so we have the right to use that passage, and any construction in that part we feel is going to obstruct our navigation. And because Iraq has very limited access to the Gulf we feel that is going to create a very high negative affect on our future lines for navigation, so we have asked the Kuwaitis to wait until we get the full information that this is not going to affect us.
Kuwait say they are making the construction on 'zero low tide', which means there is no projection of the construction in the water. We want to be sure that there is no ... negative influence, neither environmentally, commercially, nor on navigation or trading. This port is being built to serve Iraq, because the other side of Boubiyan Island is not facing to Kuwait, it is facing to the Faw Peninsula, and in order for this port to work you need to maintain a good relation with the people who benefit out of this, which means Iraqis in this case. Without having a proper arrangement with Iraq I think we can't accept this construction unless we are sure that this is not going to harm us. We have the full right to be worried about this issue, and we don't want to create any problems to Kuwait, but we maintain the full right to protect our interests, and the interests of the Iraqi people.