Kuwait has beefed up security around a controversial port project ahead of a visit by an Iraqi delegation for talks, a security official was quoted as saying Sunday.
The increased security around the Mubarak al-Kabir port on Bubiyan Island follows remarks by an Iraqi MP in the Kuwaiti press, which cited him as saying Iraqi militant groups could "easily invade Kuwait". The MP told AFP, however, that his comments were misinterpreted.
"Orders have been issued to the coast guards and border security in addition to ... Kuwait naval forces to step up their presence around Bubiyan and Warba islands," Al-Anbaa newspaper cited the unnamed security official as saying.
Kuwait's forces were instructed to increase sea and land patrols on borders with Iraq, operate a hi-tech monitoring system and to "deal firmly with any target that may attempt to infiltrate Kuwait's borders."
Baghdad claims the mammoth port, once completed, will strangle its shipping lanes in the narrow Khor Abdullah waterway that serves as its entrance to the Gulf, through which the vast majority of its oil exports flow.
Kuwait denies the charge.
The new measures came following remarks attributed to Iraqi MP Kadhim al-Shammari in the Kuwaiti press.
Kuwaiti news reports cited Shammari as saying Iraqi militant groups could "easily invade Kuwait" and carry out operations if the port was built.
Speaking to AFP, however, Shammari said his quotes had been misinterpreted.
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"My words were not a threat," he said. "I was just telling them they must speak to Iraq, and choose good brotherly relations by stopping the building of the port and moving it to another location."
Shammari said Iraq could not control the actions of militant groups such as Ketaeb Hezbollah that have threatened to target firms working on the port project.
"This group has threatened to carry out military action if Kuwait continues to build the Mubarak al-Kabir port. ... If they decide to attack Kuwait, who will they ask for permission? The government?"
The remarks reported in the Kuwaiti press, though, revived memories of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion, and come after Ketaeb Hezbollah last month warned a South Korean consortium to halt work on the port.
Kuwait's foreign ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah described Shammari's reported remarks as "irresponsible" and said they "constitute a major harm to ties between the two (Arab) countries" in press statements on Sunday.
Jarallah also said that the presence of Kuwaiti troops in Bubiyan Island was "normal" and did not represent a new development.
He said an Iraqi delegation of technical experts was due in Kuwait Sunday for talks on the issues raised by Baghdad over the port.
Kuwait City has offered to provide illustrations that will prove the new port will not harm Iraqi interests.
Last week Jarallah said threats by Iraqi militants would not deter the oil-rich emirate from completing the construction of the port.
The Gulf is the main export outlet for Iraqi oil, which accounts for the lion's share of the country's revenues, and Baghdad has started major work to modernise its outdated ports and plans to build a new port of its own.