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Emir Of Kuwait Dies

The Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah aknowledges the standing applause of the public and the benches of the National Assembly during the ceremony of re-opening of Parliament in Kuwait City, in this October 26, 2004, file photo. Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, who has been ailing since suffering a brain hemorrhage five years ago, died Sunday, state television announced. He was 79. (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)
AP Photo
The emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, who was forced into months of exile by Iraqi forces overrunning his oil-rich Gulf state in 1990 and then supported the United States in invading Iraq more than a decade later, died Sunday. He was 79.

Sheik Jaber was a close friend of America even before the Gulf crisis, but the Washington-led 1991 liberation from Iraqi occupiers solidified the bond, making Kuwait the firmest U.S. ally in the region.

The emir agreed to U.S. troops using Kuwait as a launch pad for the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, at a time when even Saudi Arabia would only help the Americans secretly, amid widespread Arab opposition.

The close alliance is likely to continue under Sheik Jaber's immediate successor, Crown Prince Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, who also has health problems and is in his mid-70s.

The Gulf crisis helped push Sheik Jaber to take limited steps toward democracy in a country where his family holds ultimate control over power. He dissolved parliament in 1986 for severely criticizing the government, but under U.S. pressure he reconvened it a year after the Gulf War.

He dissolved it again in 1999, saying lawmakers misused their constitutional rights. A new election was held just two months later.

Sheik Jaber won the praise of human rights activists when he decreed in 1999 that women should have the vote and be eligible to run for office. However, conservatives and fundamentalist Muslims in parliament repeatedly kept his decree from being put into practice.

He could have disbanded parliament to press his view, but did not. Six years later, in May 2005, parliament finally approved the legislation supported by the emir and the Cabinet appointed its first ever woman member.

The alliance with the U.S. also made Kuwait a target for terrorism by Muslim radicals, mostly homegrown. Attacks on Americans since 2002 have killed a Marine and a civilian contractor, and in January 2005 police killed eight suspected terrorists allegedly planning new attacks.