A Kuwaiti football club was to square off against an Iraqi side Wednesday in the first sports competition invloving the two countries here since Saddam Hussein invaded his oil-rich neighbour in 1990.
The match, pitting Arbil Club and Kuwait SC, at the 21,000-seat Francois Hariri Stadium in the capital of the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan is the second leg of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) cup quarter-final, following a 1-1 draw earlier this month.
It is a sign both of warmer ties between the two neighbours, which have clashed diplomatically in recent months over war reparations stemming from the 1990 invasion, and of improving security in Iraq.
“Today’s match is a wonderful historic opportunity,” Kuwaiti delegation head Marzoukh al-Ghanem told AFP.
“We are pleased to visit Iraq … (and) we hope that our visit is a prelude to other international matches with Arab teams visiting Iraq.”
The last Kuwaiti team to play in Iraq was the country’s under-21 football team in September 1989.
“We are delighted with the visit of the Kuwaiti team … We hope that the visit is followed by subsequent visits by other teams, and I see this as an important event for Iraqi football,” Kurdish minister for youth and sport Taha Berwari said.
Diplomatic relations between Iraq and Kuwait were cut in 1990 as a result of the invasion, but were restored after Saddam’s regime was overthrown by a US-led coalition in 2003.
Iraq currently pays five percent of its oil revenues in war reparations to a special UN compensation fund for the invasion, though this has become a source of friction between the two countries in recent years.
While Iraq has called for the payments to be scrapped because it no longer poses a threat to international security, Kuwait insists there should be no change until Baghdad has fully complied with resolutions on reparations.
Wednesday’s tie also comes around two months after Arbil and Baghdad played host to international football friendlies between Iraq and Palestine, the first such matches to be played on Iraqi soil since the US-led invasion in March 2003.