Highway (of Death) Robbery

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Kuwait's "Highway of Death," 1991

You may recall the infamous “Highway of Death,” that stretch of six-lane Highway 80 from Kuwait City into Iraq and on toward Basra. The U.S. military rained firepower down on retreating Iraqi troops there in the late stages of 1991’s Gulf War, leading President George H.W. Bush to announce a halt in hostilities the next day.

Highway 80 also was the road the Iraqis used to invade Kuwait in August, 1990, in the first place. So did the U.S. military, when it invaded Iraq in March, 2003. In other words, there’s been a lot of war in that oil-rich corner of the world. All that background makes Kuwait’s declaration Tuesday in Geneva that “stressed the need” for Iraq to keep paying reparations for the Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion a tad off-putting.

Granted, the invasion was horrific, and Kuwait and its people suffered much. But its perpetrator has paid the ultimate price, and the U.S. has dislodged the government that carried it out.

Under the U.N.-approved scheme, Iraq pays Kuwait 5% of the proceeds from all export sales of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas of Iraq, and 5% of the value of any non-monetary payments of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas.

Khaled Al-Mudhaf, the chairman of the Public Authority for Assessment of Compensation for Damages Resulting from the Iraqi Aggression (the U.N. fails in many ways, but not when it comes to naming its many subordinate entities) said:

We would like to recall that guaranteeing the outstanding amount paid to Kuwait is indeed a responsibility of the Governing Council [of the United Nations Compensation Commission] under its original mandate. Therefore, the United Nations Compensation Committee should not relent in its efforts until the full amount is paid.

Al-Mudhaf added that “the Gulf State was looking forward to continuing to receive future installments of quarterly payments of the outstanding balance awarded to Kuwait by the Council.”

Even Moscow finds this a bit much. “The United Nations Compensation Committee has to date doled out a staggering 36.4 billion USD in compensation claims to 1.5 million claimants (private individuals, corporations, Government and International Organizations),” Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes in Pravda. “Were Serbs, Iraqis or Libyans compensated for the acts of wanton destruction, murder, torture, looting, arson, rape and so on perpetrated by NATO countries or their terrorist allies? I thought not.”


Last year, according to the Brookings Institution’s always-handy Iraq Index (click on the chart to enlarge), 5% of Iraq’s oil exports amounted to at least $4 billion. The balance Iraq owes Kuwait stands at $16 billion. “Kuwait again renews its commitment and readiness to discuss the issue of the remaining compensation owed to Kuwait through this mechanism and under the auspices of the UNCC and awaits confirmation of the Government of Iraq’s favorable response in this regard,” the Kuwaiti News Agency reports.

How generous of the emirate. Its per-capita income stands at $40,700, 20th in the world, only slightly behind the 12th-ranked U.S.’s $48,100.

Iraqi per-capita income, on the other hand, is $3,900, less than 10% of Kuwait’s. It is ranked 160th in the world, between the Philippines and India.

Hard to believe, but it’s enough to make you feel sorry for the Iraqis.