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KUWAIT

Kuwait, like Syria and Iraq, is not a natural nation state. All of them have had their borders defined by Western Imperial powers. For several centuries they were part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, but as the Empire crumbled at the end of the First World War, the victorious powers drew lines in the sand to define their new conquests. France took what are now known as Syria and Lebanon, and the British merged three ex-Ottoman Empire districts - Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra - into a new state, Iraq, the name being coined from an old name for the area surrounding the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

Up until that time the Ottomans claimed that the small port of Kuwait was part of the district of Basra, but the presence of British Naval ships in the Gulf meant they had little control over it. When Iraq was created by the British, a vast area of oil-bearing land was removed from Basra District and incorporated into Kuwait. Britain had thereby created a client state with a capital the size of a very small English town, and an area of land the size of very large English county. At a stroke Britain had secured an oil supply that they would control for over half a century, and laid the seeds of unrest in Iraq that continue to this day.

Following Iraq's revolution when the British-imposed Hashemite rulers were overthrown, the new Republic of Iraq laid claim to its old territory of Kuwait. But they were not the only ones. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also claimed Kuwait, and in the late 1960s it was the Saudis who were seen as the greater threat - the demilitarized zone was not between Iraq and Kuwait as one might expect today, but between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In a sense both claimants have some right on their side. A glance at a map shows that if the dividing line between Iraq and Saudi Arabia was continued it would pass through the centre of Kuwait. Kuwait in fact has been formed by taking a big bite out of Iraqi territory to the north, and a smaller bite out of Saudi territory to the south.

One of the nastier consequences of this particular piece of British jingoism is that by giving Kuwait such a large amount of land to the north, Iraq, with its large population and its high level of civilization, has forever been denied a proper port in the Gulf. It has been left with a disputed waterway the Shatt al-Arab, and a mere mile of coast line too close to Iran to be defensible. Ancient Mesopotamia, through which flows the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, has been castrated.

Today things have not changed for the better. One of the causes of the Iraqi-Kuwait conflict in 1991 was Kuwait's encroachment on yet more oil-bearing land to the north. Following Iraq's defeat, the United Nations moved the Kuwait border permanently to the north so that Kuwait now sips from what had previously been solely an Iraqi oil lake.

Apart from Iraq, the true loser today is Britain. The UK dominated Kuwait until the devaluation of the British Pound in 1968 demonstrated that the Kuwaitis were better off with a new patron state. In 1967 the Kuwaiti Dinar was equal to one British Pound, but following the Pound's devaluation six Dinars became equal to seven British Pounds. Today the Kuwaiti Dinar is tied to the US Dollar.