Kuwaiti envoy visits Iraq to help mend ties

Meets Maliki for security talks

By Sameer N. Yacoub
Associated Press / February 27, 2009
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BAGHDAD - Iraq took another step toward healing its rift with Kuwait yesterday as government leaders welcomed the highest-ranking Kuwaiti envoy since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion.

The timing of the visit by Kuwait's deputy prime minister, Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah, was symbolic - it came as Kuwaitis celebrated the 18th anniversary of the US-led military campaign that drove out Hussein's forces.

But much of tiny Persian Gulf nation was left looted and devastated by the Iraqi occupation, and Kuwait still claims billions of dollars in war reparations. It has refused appeals by Iraq's government to reduce its demands and forgive about $15 billion in Iraqi debt.

There was no mention of the payments in public statements during yesterday's talks, but Iraq's prime minister made a point of denouncing Hussein's aggression.

"We are working on the concepts of security and stability, not the ideas of weapons and dictatorship of the Saddam era," Nouri al-Maliki said after meeting with Mohammed, who is also Kuwait's foreign minister.

Kuwait and several other mostly Sunni Arab nations have restored diplomatic ties with Iraq, but they remain wary of the Shi'ite-led government's relations with Iran.

The Kuwait News Agency said Mohammed was expected to make another official visit to Baghdad soon with Kuwait's prime minister, Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah. No date was set for that visit.

Ties between Kuwait and Iraq were severed when Hussein invaded. But they resumed relations after the dictator was toppled by the US-led invasion in 2003, and a Kuwaiti ambassador arrived last fall.

In southern Iraq yesterday, authorities buried the remains of more than 480 Iraqi soldiers killed in two wars during Hussein's rule.

The ceremony near Basra included the remains of troops from Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran and the 1991 US-led offensive that ended Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait. The graves included the remains of nearly 250 soldiers returned by Iran last year and more than 60 sent from Saudi Arabia, where some of the 1991 fighting spilled over.

The director of Basra's human rights commission, Mahdi al-Timimi, said the remains of 309 soldiers had been identified. The rest remain unknown. Relatives can ask to exhume a family member's remains for burial in another site.

More than 1 million people died in the Iran-Iraq war and Iraqi soldiers suffered heavy losses in being driven from Kuwait. US warplanes later enforced no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, two Iraqi soldiers were killed and 12 other people - mostly students - wounded in a roadside bombing in Baghdad yesterday. The attack apparently targeting a military patrol near Baghdad University, police and hospital officials said.

The officials gave the casualty toll on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information.

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