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Kuwait: Iraqi Boat Fires at Kuwaiti Coast Guard Vessels

An Iraqi vessel traded gunfire with two Kuwaiti coast guard patrols Tuesday in northern Kuwaiti waters, an offshore region that has been tense since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

Nobody was wounded in the exchange of fire near the tiny island of Warba, but one Kuwaiti crewman was hurt slightly when the coast guard speedboats collided, a Kuwaiti Interior Ministry statement said.

There was no immediate word from Iraq on the incident near the island, which is separated from the Iraqi mainland by a narrow channel.

The coast guard patrol was "caught by surprise" by the 10 a.m. attack, but returned fire until the small Iraqi boat retreated, an Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Such incidents along the Kuwait-Iraq border are not unheard of since the Gulf War, but few have been reported in recent years.

In 1997, Kuwait accused Iraq of opening fire on more than one occasion, including shooting at a border watchtower under construction and at three coast guard boats.

Baghdad, meanwhile, has complained several times to the United Nations that Kuwaitis have attacked Iraqi boats.

The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry official said no extra precautions were being taken after Tuesday's incident.

Ties between Kuwait and Iraq have been severed since 1991, when a U.S.-led coalition liberated this small, oil-rich state from a seven-month Iraqi occupation. The closed border between the two countries is monitored by the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission, or UNIKOM. Spokesman Daljeet Bagga said the observers were investigating the report.

The United States has thousands of troops in Kuwait as the region waits to see if another U.S.-led war against Iraq erupts.

At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had no specific information about the incident. "We're chasing down the details," he said.

Meanwhile, Kuwait's deputy prime minister insisted that his talks with an Iraqi Kurdish opposition leader on the future of Iraq without President Saddam Hussein were not interference in Bagdad's affairs.

"It is our right to know what the situation in Iraq would be after Saddam," Deputy Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah said in an interview with Al-Rai Al-Amm newspaper.

Sheik Sabah held talks Monday with Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan whom he had invited to visit Kuwait. The Patriotic Union is one of two groups that control the Kurdish autonomous zone of northern Iraq.

Later Tuesday, Talabani told reporters that Kuwait was sending an observer delegation to the upcoming Iraqi opposition conference in London later this month.