Monday, 25 September 2023 04:05 GMT

Reshaping Iraq-Kuwait Maritime Boundaries And Sovereignty

(MENAFN- Iraq Business News) By Mohammed Muayad Koperly and Haider Zaki Qasim, for Iraq Business News . Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News .

The Iraqi Supreme Federal Court's Nullification of the Khor Abdullah Agreement: Reshaping Iraq-Kuwait Maritime Boundaries and Sovereignty

As a reader interested in geopolitical affairs and maritime law in the Persian Gulf region, you will want to pay close attention to the recent nullification of the Khor Abdullah agreement by Iraq's Supreme Federal Court. This ruling has far-reaching consequences that reshape the maritime boundaries and sovereignty between Iraq and Kuwait. The agreement, signed in 2012, delineated territorial waters and navigation rights in the Khor Abdullah waterway, an estuary formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that provides Iraq its only sea access. However, in a case brought by MP Saud Al-Saadi, the court found several constitutional violations with the agreement's ratification, leaving its legal status in limbo and the geopolitical situation uncertain. This unfolding situation warrants monitoring as it may impact security, trade, and access to natural resources in this strategic region.

Overview of the Khor Abdullah Agreement

The Khor Abdullah Agreement represents a pivotal moment in Iraq-Kuwait relations, establishing a framework for cooperation over the strategic Khor Abdullah waterway. Enacted in 2013, the agreement aimed to promote free trade and resolve long-standing disputes over access to the channel, which accounts for approximately 80% of Iraq's imports.

Under the terms of the agreement, Iraq and Kuwait consented to share control of the Khor Abdullah waterway, forming a joint committee to oversee operations and settle any controversies. The pact outlined regulations for ship movements and inspections to facilitate the flow of trade. While controversial within Iraq, with critics arguing it afforded Kuwait excessive influence, the agreement signalled a commitment to clarifying rules of use for this critical trade corridor.

However, in a shocking turn of events, Iraq's Supreme Federal Court nullified the agreement on September 4, 2023. Citing a failure to achieve the two-thirds parliamentary majority required to ratify international accords under Article 61 of Iraq's constitution, the court deemed the agreement unlawful. The ruling raises questions about the status of historical, constitutional, and international laws referenced during legal proceedings.

Nations worldwide anxiously await Iraq and Kuwait's next moves. Will this verdict spur renewed diplomatic negotiations or escalate tensions over strategic waters and trade routes? The Khor Abdullah agreement represented a pivotal first step toward cooperation. Now, its dissolution places regional stability and economic interests in the balance. Iraq and Kuwait must work to redefine their maritime boundaries and safeguard mutual prosperity.

Allegations Raised by MP Saud Al-Saadi

MP Saud Al-Saadi petitioned the court to nullify the law approving the Khor Abdullah Agreement, citing several constitutional violations and procedural irregularities.

First, the MP argued that the agreement contravened Articles 1, 2, 50, 71 and 79 of the Iraqi Constitution, which obligate the government to safeguard Iraq's sovereignty, territory, waters and resources. By surrendering parts of Iraq's maritime domain to Kuwait, the agreement failed to uphold these constitutional duties.

Second, the MP highlighted inconsistencies within the agreement itself. Article 2 delineates maritime boundaries that differ from those established by UN Security Council Resolution 833, contradicting Article 6. This discrepancy calls into question the legitimacy of the territorial allotments made under the agreement.

Third, the voting process for the law's approval violated Article 61 of the Constitution, which specifies the majority required for ratification. The law passed without attaining the necessary threshold, rendering its endorsement unconstitutional.

Finally, the MP argued that the agreement disregarded Iraq's historical claims over territorial waters predating Kuwait's independence, as evidenced in archival British maps. By overlooking Iraq's established sovereign rights, the agreement unlawfully appropriated maritime areas that rightfully belong to Iraq.

The allegations raised by MP Al-Saadi tapped into ongoing concerns over threats to Iraq's economic and political security posed by Kuwait's actions, including the construction of the Mubarak Port. The port's strategic location allows Kuwait to exert control over the Khor Abdullah waterway, endangering Iraq's trade flows and port development. The MP's petition gave legal articulation to apprehensions that the agreement and port further a systematic encroachment upon Iraq's sovereignty and national interests.

Overall, the MP presented a compelling case that exposed serious legal and procedural flaws in the agreement's formulation, ratification and implementation. The Federal Supreme Court's subsequent nullification of the law approving the agreement vindicated the MP's contentions, delivering a victory for Iraq's constitutional integrity and sovereign rights.

Procedural Irregularities in Passing the Agreement

When analysing the Federal Supreme Court's decision to nullify the Khor Abdullah Agreement, several procedural irregularities in the ratification process come to light. As stipulated in Article 61 of the Iraqi Constitution, enacting laws related to international agreements requires approval by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament. However, the law approving the Khor Abdullah Agreement failed to meet this threshold, calling into question its constitutionality.

The agreement's ratification process violated the legal requirements set forth in Iraq's governing documents. According to the claims raised in Mr. Al-Saadi's petition, the number of votes in favor of the law fell short of the majority needed for passage. Given that treaties and accords with foreign nations are matters of national import that shape Iraq's legal and economic obligations on the global stage, they necessitate careful review and broad consensus. By not adhering to the procedural rules around their approval, the legitimacy of the Khor Abdullah Agreement was compromised from its inception.

Lack of Transparency

The ratification process also lacked transparency in that there were no public consultations or debates on the terms of the agreement before it was hastily approved. For an agreement governing access to strategic waterways and trade routes vital to Iraq's economy, input from experts, academics and key stakeholders was sorely missing. The secrecy surrounding its passage prevented comprehensive analysis of how it might impact Iraq's interests or align with its constitution. Such opaque lawmaking undermines principles of good governance and public trust in government institutions.

Questions of Sovereignty

At its core, the agreement's legitimacy hinged on following proper procedures that respect Iraq's sovereignty. As the petitioner argued, approving the agreement without the requisite vote amounted to an abdication of the government's constitutional duty to protect Iraq's territorial integrity. The terms of the deal gave Kuwait shared control over waterways that fall within Iraq's maritime borders, limiting its sovereign rights. By subverting the established process for ratifying treaties, the government failed to uphold its obligations to the nation and its citizens.

The Federal Supreme Court's decision affirmed that compliance with the law is non-negotiable to safeguard Iraq's autonomy and governance. By declaring the agreement unconstitutional due to violations in how it was enacted, the court took a stand for transparency, accountability and sovereignty - principles enshrined in the Constitution. Its ruling reshapes Iraq-Kuwait relations and reasserts Iraq's control over its territorial waters, with implications that will undoubtedly reverberate on political and economic fronts.

Constitutional Violations Highlighted in the Court Case and the Judicial Decision

The plaintiff, Member of Parliament (MP) Saud Saadoun Ali Al-Saadi, presented compelling arguments to the Federal Supreme Court outlining several constitutional violations resulting from the ratification of the Khor Abdullah Agreement.

First, the plaintiff contended that the agreement contravened the government's duty under Article 2 of the Constitution to safeguard Iraq's sovereignty and protect its land, airspace, waters, and natural resources. Specifically, Articles 2 and 6 of the agreement were seen as manipulating Iraq's maritime borders and ceding a portion of its territorial waters to Kuwait, thereby compromising Iraq's sovereignty.

Second, the plaintiff argued that the agreement violated Articles 50, 71, and 79 of the Constitution, which obligate the President, members of Parliament, and the Prime Minister to defend Iraq's territorial waters. Failure to uphold this duty was viewed as a dereliction of their constitutional responsibilities.

Third, the plaintiff pointed out that the law approving the agreement did not meet the two-thirds parliamentary majority required for ratifying international accords under Article 61 of the Constitution. This procedural defect represented the most compelling reason for the court's decision to nullify the law.

Finally, while the geopolitical and economic implications of the ruling are complex, the court's decision was grounded solely in legal and constitutional reasoning. The presiding judge, Sayyid Jassim Mohammad Aboud, and his judicial panel ultimately invalidated the law due to explicit violations of the Iraqi Constitution, in keeping with the court's mandate and authority.

In summary, the well-founded legal arguments presented by the plaintiff, especially the failure to achieve the necessary quorum in Parliament, provided ample justification for the Federal Supreme Court to nullify the law approving the Khor Abdullah Agreement. The ruling underscores the need for transparency and strict adherence to proper legislative procedure when enacting laws related to Iraq's national interests and sovereignty. Dialog and renegotiation between Iraq and Kuwait may now be required to establish a new agreement that respects the rights and interests of both nations.

Implications for Iraq's Maritime Borders and Sovereignty

The nullification of the Khor Abdullah Agreement by the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court will have profound implications for Iraq's maritime boundaries and sovereignty. By invalidating the agreement, Iraq regains full control over its territorial waters in Khawr Abd Allah, reshaping its maritime borders with Kuwait.

Restoring Sovereignty over Strategic Waterways

The Khor Abdullah waterway accounts for approximately 80% of Iraq's imports, making it crucial for the nation's economy and trade. With the court's ruling, Iraq reassumes sovereignty over this strategic corridor, allowing it to regulate navigation and access as it sees fit. This promises to strengthen Iraq's security and economic interests in the region.

Renegotiating Maritime Borders

The boundaries established under the now-defunct Khor Abdullah Agreement will need to be redefined through diplomatic negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait. The countries must come together to determine equitable maritime borders that respect the rights and interests of both nations. This process may be facilitated through the involvement of the United Nations or other international mediators. A fair and sustainable resolution is critical for maintaining stability in this strategically important region.

Safeguarding Natural Resources

Invalidating the agreement also gives Iraq greater control over its territorial waters and any natural resources they may contain, such as oil and gas reserves. With its maritime borders undefined, Iraq has an opportunity to negotiate boundaries that maximize its access to resources that could boost its economy. However, this may increase tensions with Kuwait if not handled judiciously through cooperative dialog.

Avoiding Further Conflict

The situation now stands at a crossroads, with the potential for either greater cooperation or increased conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. It is imperative that the countries engage in immediate, transparent discussions to find a resolution that respects the rights and sovereignty of both nations. Failure to do so could undermine stability in the region and escalate geopolitical tensions. With prudent diplomacy, however, this watershed moment may pave the way for a fairer, more sustainable agreement on maritime boundaries and access.

Impact on Regional Trade and Economic Ties

The Iraqi Supreme Federal Court's nullification of the Khor Abdullah Agreement will likely reshape economic and trade relations between Iraq and Kuwait. As the primary maritime route for 80% of Iraq's imports, the Khor Abdullah waterway is of strategic importance for Iraq's economy. By invalidating the agreement that governed use of this passage, the court's ruling introduces uncertainty that could disrupt trade flows and damage economic ties between the neighboring nations.

Impact on Trade Flows

The Khor Abdullah Agreement established a framework for facilitating the transport of goods through the shared waterway. Without this framework in place, trade vessels may face difficulties navigating the passage or experience delays clearing customs and inspections. These inefficiencies threaten to slow the flow of trade through Khor Abdullah, jeopardizing Iraq's import activities. Iraq relies heavily on imports to meet domestic demand for food, medicine, and raw materials. Any impediment to its import supply chains could have serious economic consequences.

Strained Regional Relations

Kuwait and Iraq stand to suffer damaged diplomatic and economic relations in the aftermath of this decision. Kuwait viewed the agreement as affirming its rights in the shared waterway, while Iraq saw it as an infringement on its sovereignty. This conflicting perspectives foreshadow potential disputes over control and access. Such tensions may spill over to impact other areas of cooperation, including investments, border security, and cultural exchanges. Mending ties will require a show of good faith from both sides through renewed dialog and compromise.

Need for Renewed Diplomacy

The void left by the nullified agreement necessitates the establishment of new terms to govern Khor Abdullah. Failure to do so risks leaving the waterway in a state of legal ambiguity that benefits neither nation. Iraq and Kuwait must come together in the spirit of diplomacy to negotiate a revised agreement that addresses the concerns of both parties. A mutually agreeable pact can reaffirm shared interests, strengthen economic and security partnerships, and bring much-needed stability to this strategic region. With open communication and political will, Iraq and Kuwait can turn this pivotal moment into an opportunity for cooperation.

Geopolitical Repercussions for Iraq-Kuwait Relations

The Federal Supreme Court's ruling nullifying the Khor Abdullah Agreement carries significant geopolitical implications for Iraq-Kuwait relations.

Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

As highlighted in the petition, the agreement was seen by critics as compromising Iraq's territorial integrity and national sovereignty. By jointly administering the Khor Abdullah waterway and establishing a committee with shared control, Iraq appeared to cede authority over waters within its maritime borders. This ruling reasserts Iraq's sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its internal waters, though cooperative mechanisms may still be needed to facilitate trade and navigation.

Economic and Trade Interests

The Khor Abdullah waterway is crucial for Iraq's economy, facilitating the passage of approximately 80% of its imports. While the agreement aimed to ensure the smooth flow of trade through mutually agreed rules, Iraq perceived Kuwait as gaining greater leverage and control. Nullifying the agreement could pose challenges to maritime trade and commerce in the short term but allows Iraq to negotiate an arrangement more balanced and favorable to its interests.

Security and Stability

There are also implications for regional security and stability. Escalating tensions over control of strategic waterways and resources often exacerbate conflicts and power struggles. However, this ruling also presents an opportunity for Iraq and Kuwait to come together in good faith, acknowledge their shared interests in a stable and prosperous region, and forge a new cooperative framework that respects the rights and concerns of both nations. The path forward will depend on the political will of leaders to choose diplomacy over deadlock.

Immediate, transparent and constructive dialog between Iraq and Kuwait is critical. Though the agreement has been deemed unconstitutional under Iraqi law, Kuwait may see this as a unilateral abrogation of a binding pact and seek redress through international mechanisms. This could damage bilateral relations and trust, emphasizing the need for open communication to clarify positions, find common ground, and make progress on a new maritime deal. With political will and commitment to shared regional stability and prosperity, this ruling could mark the start of a renegotiated, mutually beneficial relationship between Iraq and Kuwait.

Potential International Legal Avenues for Kuwait

The Iraqi Supreme Federal Court's nullification of the Khor Abdullah Agreement presents Kuwait with several potential avenues to pursue through international law. As a sovereign nation, Kuwait maintains the right to protect its interests and uphold mutually agreed upon accords. The unilateral abrogation of the agreement by Iraq infringes upon Kuwait's rights and may warrant intervention by international governing bodies.

Kuwait could bring the issue before the United Nations Security Council, which originally delineated the maritime boundaries between Iraq and Kuwait in Resolution 833 of 1993. The Security Council has the authority to issue binding resolutions compelling Iraq to honor the terms of the agreement. Failure to comply could result in economic sanctions or other punitive measures.

Alternatively, Kuwait may file a case with the International Court of Justice, the primary judicial organ of the UN, claiming that Iraq's actions constitute a breach of international law. As a party to the agreement, Kuwait maintained reasonable expectations that Iraq would fulfill its obligations in good faith. Nullification of the pact under dubious legal pretexts deals a blow to the integrity of international agreements and the rule of law between nations.

The agreement also provides a mechanism for dispute resolution through a Joint Technical Committee comprised of representatives from both countries. However, Iraq's unilateral withdrawal from the agreement renders this committee inoperable and closes an important channel for diplomatic negotiation. Kuwait could push for the re-establishment of the committee as a first step toward a new maritime accord that addresses the concerns of both parties.

Kuwait has a vested interest in protecting the Khor Abdullah waterway which facilitates the transport of 80% of Iraq's imports, including essential goods and materials. Renegotiating the terms of the agreement to establish clearer rules and stronger enforcement mechanisms may serve the mutual interests of both countries by ensuring the steady flow of trade and avoiding future disputes. International intervention could pressure Iraq back to the negotiating table and help mediate a compromise that respects the rights and needs of both sovereign nations.

The Road Ahead: Diplomacy or Dispute?

The Federal Supreme Court's momentous verdict nullifying the Khor Abdullah Agreementposes complex questions about the road ahead for Iraq-Kuwait relations. On the one hand, the decision reaffirms Iraq's constitutional principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty. However, it also introduces instability into a strategic bilateral relationship and threatens to disrupt established economic and trade partnerships. Navigating this legal labyrinth will require skilled diplomacy and open communication between Baghdad and Kuwait City. Iraq must uphold its constitutional duties to protect national borders and resources. At the same time, it should recognize Kuwait's right to sovereignty and seek cooperative solutions that benefit both nations. Renegotiating the terms of the agreement to address Iraq's legal and economic concerns could pave the way for an enduring, mutually agreeable framework. Failure to do so risks provoking further tensions or even outright conflicts over maritime territories, resources, and trade routes. Kuwait may also challenge the court's decision in international forums, prolonging uncertainty and hindering productive discussions. However, with good faith efforts, the two countries can work through their differences and forge a new path forward based on shared interests. Iraq and Kuwait have a long, intertwined history, with political and economic ties that transcend temporary setbacks. By tapping into this spirit of partnership and focusing on areas of common ground, diplomats can overcome obstacles, reframe narratives of competition into narratives of cooperation, and arrive at solutions that respect the rights and needs of both nations. The path is not straightforward, but with open minds and compassionate dialog, Iraq and Kuwait can build a future of increased collaboration, prosperity, and regional stability.


The recent verdict of Iraq's Supreme Federal Court nullifying the Khor Abdullah agreement with Kuwait carries significant implications. By deeming the agreement noncompliant with Iraq's constitutional amendment procedures, the court has effectively redrawn the maritime borders and redefined sovereignty for both nations. Moving ahead, Iraq and Kuwait face the imperative task of renegotiating a fresh accord that aligns with Iraq's constitutional prerequisites should they seek to formalize their maritime rights and cooperation.

These ruling underscores Iraq's commitment to democratic values and its system of checks and balances, reaffirming the importance of adherence to the rule of law. While it is undeniable that the decision may introduce short-term complexities in Iraq-Kuwait relations, staying steadfast in the pursuit of constitutional principles will ultimately serve Iraq's enduring political and economic interests.


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