Condign Line

By Hubbell, Stephen | The Nation, December 28, 1992 | Go to article overview

Condign Line


Hubbell, Stephen, The Nation


A simple imperative guides postwax allied policy toward Iraq: Punish Saddam Hussein. If enough indignities can be inflicted on Baghdad, the wisdom has it, the tyrant will fail. You'd think that the heavy cost in human life and suffering already exacted by the economic embargo and by Bush's call for the Kurds and the Shiites to rebel might prompt a reassessment from the winners of the Desert Storm adventure. Not so. The completion in early December of the work of a United Nations task force charged with marking a permanent border between Iraq and Kuwait insures that the humiliation of the vanquished will continue.

Since 1913, when a British civil servant imposed a make-shift boundary with a stroke of the imperial pen, the border area has been a flashpoint of hostility between the two countries. Skirmishes along the frontier were a frequent occurrence after Kuwait won its independence in 1961. Saddam cited the border dispute as one of the reasons behind his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait. At issue then as now was the fate of the Rumallah oilfields, as well as the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr. In 1932, when the 1913 line was reaffirmed, Kuwait was a tiny, impoverished sheikdom, while Iraq was by comparison an economic powerhouse. Fearing it would be overwhelmed by its neighbor to the north, Kuwait sought control over the southern approaches to Umm Qasr as well as the waterway linking it to the Persian Gulf. Descriptions of the border's location were ambiguous and the treaty containing the boundary agreement was never ratified, so both sides prepared themselves to press their claim at the appropriate time.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, the cease-fire accord that ended the Gulf War, created a commission to settle the border argument once and for all. It will complete its task this month. The new boundary, which gives Kuwait control over vital access roads south of the Umm Qasr harbor as well as a part of the port area itself, will provide Iraq with a new focus for its historical hatred of the emirate.

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