- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

KUWAIT CITY — Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait and one of the United States’ closest Middle East allies, was buried in an unmarked grave yesterday in a ceremony attended by thousands of weeping citizens who mourned the death of an admired ruler.

The crown prince, Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah — in his mid-70s and ailing himself — assumed the throne. But he was expected to leave control of day-to-day government affairs to the veteran prime minister, and no major policy shifts were expected.

Sheik Jaber, who was restored to power by American forces after then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny, oil-rich country in 1990, was 79 when he died yesterday after 27 years in power. He was one of the few Arab rulers who supported the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam. He allowed his country to be used as a launching pad for the American drive to Baghdad.

The new emir, who suffers from a colon condition and must travel abroad periodically for medical treatment, watched from a wheelchair as the body of his distant cousin, wrapped in a Kuwaiti flag, was carried shoulder-high through a crowd of 10,000 mourners and lowered into the grave after a brief Muslim prayer.

Members of the ruling family, including Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, stood for hours at the Sulaibikat public cemetery to accept condolences from dignitaries and ordinary Kuwaitis. Sheik Sabah is the former emir’s half-brother.

Abdul-Rhida Asiri, head of the political science department at Kuwait University, said the prime minister will become the “de facto ruler” for now, and the ruling family could make further leadership decisions after the mourning period.

The close alliance with the United States is not likely to change under Sheik Saad. Washington named Kuwait a major non-NATO ally in 2004.

Kuwait signed a defense pact with Washington after a U.S.-led coalition fought the 1991 Gulf war that liberated Kuwait from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under Saddam. The small state’s strategic significance lies mainly with its oil, the 10th-largest reserves in the world.

The Al Sabah family has ruled Kuwait for more than 250 years and enjoys the respect and approval of Kuwaitis.

Among the heads of state who arrived to pay their respects were King Abdullah II of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sheik Jaber was a “wise leader.”

Banks, schools, government offices and most businesses were closing for three days. A 40-day period of mourning was announced.

According to the constitution, the new emir has up to a year to name a crown prince.

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