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Source: US Department of Defense
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Kuwait and Iraq seek to defuse Iran crisis

The states depend of the Strait of Hormuz for their oil exports and vital oil revenue

Sometimes it takes a shared crisis for neighbours who have been at loggerheads for years to put aside their differences.

A one-day visit to Iraq by the Emir of Kuwait, Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, reflects a gradual thaw in relations over recent years after the trauma of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But, much more, it is an indication that the two states are alarmed by the rising tension in the Gulf over the Iran crisis.

They have good reason to be. Both export their crude oil through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Gulf of Oman—where two tankers were recently damaged in attacks blamed on Iran. All Kuwait's exports (around 2mn bl/d) and almost all Iraq's (3.5mn bl/d, with only 100,000 bl/d piped northwards to Turkey) pass through the Strait.

Little wonder, then, that after the Kuwaiti emir had held talks with Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi the two sides called for "wisdom and reason" in the handling of the Iran crisis.

Both countries are well positioned to help in mediation efforts. Iraq enjoys very close relations with Iran, while also having strong military and political links to the US. Kuwait has distanced itself from the anti-Iran stand taken by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and has always made sure that a channel to Tehran remains open. Both countries will be using whatever influence they have over the parties to the crisis to avoid a further escalation in tension and ensure that the oil export routes remain open.

Gulf divisions continue

At a time of heightened tension in the region, it could be argued that the interests of the Gulf Cooperation Council states would be best served by close coordination over how to deal with the crisis. But the dispute over Qatar continues to mean that this option is off the table. The economic and diplomatic blockade, imposed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in June 2017, remains in place. Kuwait has led efforts to mediate, but so far without success.

Any hopes that the two sides in the dispute might be seeking to tone down the public rhetoric were dashed by the publication of a UN human rights report blaming Saudi Arabia for the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. While the kingdom dismissed the report, saying it added nothing new and was flawed by unfounded allegations, Qatar has seized on it with relish. The Qatari-based television company Al Jazeera has given the report blanket coverage, stirring up feelings of mutual hostility once more.

The aging emir of Kuwait has two crises to tackle. Each will require all his experience as a mediator. One has the potential to cut off his country's income stream if it is not resolved soon.

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