January 17, 2010 / 12:08 PM / in 9 years

Kuwait fears Iraq violence could spread - minister

KUWAIT, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Kuwait fears a rise in militant attacks and sectarian tensions in Iraq could cause a new security threat for the Gulf Arab oil producer, a minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

The sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq has largely abated but U.S. and Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi authorities expect attacks by Sunni militants to increase ahead of key parliamentary elections in March.

Large-scale bombings killed dozens this month across Iraq, which Baghdad blamed on al Qaeda militants and elements of former leader Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party.

"I’m worried about the collapse of the security system in Iraq, which could drive many Iraqis to seek refuge in Kuwait," Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah told al-Qabas daily.

"I am worried about ... a sectarian conflict that would spread to Kuwait ... I’m worried that conflicts, terrorism and al Qaeda groups could spread to Kuwait," he said.

Kuwait, which is almost one-third Shi’ite, waged a largely successful campaign to stamp out violence by Islamist militants after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities and Iraq war.

Last year, Kuwait said it had foiled an al Qaeda-linked plan to bomb a U.S. army camp and an oil refinery in the OPEC oil exporting state.

Relations between Iraq and Kuwait became tense last year because of a dispute over billion of dollars Baghdad owes to Kuwait in reparations for 1990-91 occupation of the small state in the era of Saddam Hussein. (Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Andrew Hammond)

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