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A photo provided by the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA on August 22, 2021 shows Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah receiving Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi in Kuwait City. Image Credit: AFP

Kuwait City: On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi landed in Kuwait on a one-day official visit to hold talks with Kuwaiti officials, media heads and business leaders to discuss bilateral relations and investment opportunities between the two Arab countries.

Al Kadhimi meet with Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah and the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mishal Al Ahmed Al Sabah, to review, “regional developments and touched upon means of promoting trade exchange amidst keenness to develop partnership, playing an active role in sustainable development, industrial and trade investments,” Kuwait’s state media KUNA reported.

This is the first time Al Kadhimi has visited Kuwait in his role as Prime Minister, since he was appointed in May 2020. His visit comes a few weeks after the Iraqi Minister of Planning, Khaled Al Najm, delivered a written invitation addressed to Sheikh Nawaf, from Al Kadhimi, inviting him to attend a regional summit to be held in Iraq at the end of the month.

Kuwait-Iraq relations

Although the neighbours share a long relationship, it was strained back in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

It was in 2004, around 14 years after the invasion, that the two countries restored diplomatic relations. On August 2, 2004, Iraq and Kuwait agreed to put in place a joint higher committee to enhance economic ties, which was co-chaired by then interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Then in 2012, the late Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, visited Iraq to attend the 23rd Arab League Summit and more recently in July 2019 to meet with Iraq’s Prime Minister at the time, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to discuss bilateral relations and the growing regional tensions.

On Monday, the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) revealed Al Kadhimi met with the chamber during his visit. The Chairman of KCCI, Mohammed Al Sager, said in a statement that the chamber “affirmed the vital role of the private sector in strengthening investment opportunities, commercial and economic capabilities to meet the aspiration of both parties.”

Investment opportunities

While his visit was hailed as a move in the right direction for diplomatic relations between the two countries, it was also aimed at attracting investment opportunities. Al Kadhimi said his country was keen on “removing obstacles to allure Kuwait’s investment.”

“Iraq wants to establish itself as a regional hub for entrepreneurs and Al Kadhimi’s visit is giving Kuwait and its entrepreneurs an opportunity to invest in the country. Investing in Iraq gives Kuwait a chance to enter an untapped potential of growth and sustainability. This in return enables entrepreneurs to ameliorate and creates a new stream of income, as the country is dealing with a budget deficit. This is a step towards diversifying economically,” Dr. Omar Al Hussainan, Assistant Professor of Applied Economics & Finance at the Australian College of Kuwait (ACK), told Gulf News.

During his visit, Al Kadhimi also met with newspaper heads, “as a way to send a message through the media that Iraq is open for business,” AlHussainan said.

In the past few years, several talks have been held to boost economic ties between both countries.

Back in February 2018, Kuwait hosted an international conference to examine ways to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and economy. Several Gulf countries, including Turkey and the United States, pledged to provide Iraq with a total of 10 billion Kuwaiti dinars ($30 billion) in loans and investments.

As for the private sector, in January 2019, the Chairman at the time of the KCCI, Ali Al Ghanim, met with the Head of the Iraqi Businessmen Association, Sabih Al Hashemi, in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. To enhance and attract foreign investment, Iraq allowed Kuwait to open a consulate in Basra which would facilitate the work of Kuwaiti investors as a number of business dealings emerged.

“Kuwait is keen on enhancing it’s relationship with Iraq, through its investment in Basra and in the Northern area of Erbil, as a way to ensure stability and national security as economic ties reduces the risk conflict in the region,” Dr. Ali Al-Kandri, a professor of History at Kuwait University, told Gulf News.

Public reactions

While some viewed the PM’s visit as a positive move, many were sceptical and wary of the decision, worrying that it would negatively impact Kuwaiti citizens. MP Hamad Al Matar stated, “It is very important that the government’s discussions with the Iraqi Prime Minister is based on restoring the rights and property of Kuwaiti citizens, in addition to the rights of our companies that invested and completed projects that were seized, as they are public funds belonging to shareholders’ rights.”

Similarly, MP Mubarak Al Khajma, said, “The government must protect Kuwaiti investments and the rights of their investors in Iraq before rushing to sign investment cooperation deals.”