The shockingly awful Anglo-American invasion of Iraq means that Jordan is now literally situated between two wars: To the west, the increasingly bloody Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is now well into its third year. To the east, indications are that it will be at least as long before peace and stability take hold in Iraq.
This war could not have come at a worse time for Jordan. Public opinion, much of which is of Palestinian origin and is constantly bombarded with images of Israel’s bloody counterinsurgency in the occupied territories, reached the boiling point well before Bush discovered Iraq. The Jordanian economy, suffering from the combined effects of UN sanctions on Iraq, the Palestinian intifada, 9/11 and the global recession, is in the doldrums. And late last year in the southern Jordanian city of Ma’an, armed confrontations between residents and security forces claimed a number of lives.
The dilemma for Jordan’s young king, Abdullah II, is acute. Whereas his late father, King Hussein, opted out of the coalition that confronted Iraq in 1991, the current monarch has concluded that in the post-9/11 world one does not risk incurring Washington’s wrath. But because he rules over a population that has come to detest the United States even more than it does Israel, cooperation has to be kept firmly out of the limelight. The result is that the extent of Jordan’s involvement is the subject of few facts, many rumors and an equal number of official denials.
As the Jordanian government braces for further demonstrations against the war, the security forces are very much in evidence. Although demonstrations have been banned, they are growing and spreading, with more than fifty-five reported through March 23. They also reflect local concerns; the March 20 missile attack that failed to decapitate the Iraqi leadership dismembered a Jordanian truck driver, and two days later another American missile incinerated four Jordanian university students returning home from the northern Iraqi town of Mosul.
Yet, neither Jordanian corpses nor the residual support for Saddam Hussein among some in this country even begins to explain the intensity of feeling against Washington and its war. As one enraged Jordanian expressed it, “This is not a war against Iraq but against the entire Arab world–to destroy it, control its oil and make the West Bank safe for Ariel Sharon’s settlements.” A more common refrain is “The Iraqi people have suffered enough.”
Others prefer to see this as “a war by the Christian fundamentalists in America and the Jewish fundamentalists in Tel Aviv against Islam.” “A few more days of shock and awe,” noted an observer, “and Osama bin Laden can uncork the proverbial champagne.” “The main problem Al Qaeda is going to face after this war,” predicted another, “is the competition.” Meanwhile, the mass influx of refugees has not (yet) materialized. Rather, hundreds of Iraqi refugees have been leaving Jordan to take up arms against the Americans. “I’m not fighting for Saddam,” said one. “I’m fighting for Iraq.”
The occupation of Iraq strikes a particularly sensitive chord in the Arab world, whose colonial legacy has yet to be fully resolved. So too do Washington’s ever more brazen double standards: As Baghdad was being saturated with high explosives, the Bush Administration allocated $9 billion in loan guarantees to Israel–which had requested only $8 billion.