Jordan caught between US and Iraq
Citizenry's sympathy for Hussein runs counter to the monarchy's pro-US stance.
Most of the posters of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein plastered across Jordan during the 1991 Gulf War have long since faded and gone.Skip to next paragraph
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But as the United States prepares for Gulf War II, sympathy for Iraq if not for Mr. Hussein himself continues to run deep. These feelings are fueled by concern about an attack on a fellow Arab nation and by Arab anger over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
"We are proud of Saddam Hussein, because no other Arab president used even one bullet against Israel," says Ahmad, a cobbler in a Jordanian shop, referring to Iraq's firing of Scud missiles against the Jewish state in 1991.
Such sentiments are creating a dangerous political dilemma for Jordan's pro-US monarchy headed by King Abdullah II, who relies on American military and economic aid and is likely to be asked to play a role in any American attack on Iraq.
"This is a very tough time for Jordan, which has never been pulled so hard by two extreme trends before," says Hani Hourani, head of the Al-Urdun Al-Jadid Research Center in Amman.
Referring to the current Jordanian monarch's father, Mr. Hourani adds, "In 1990, King Hussein had enough influence, legitimacy, and credibility to protect Jordan from American pressure. Now it is not so easy."
The late King Hussein refused to join the US-led anti-Iraq coalition during the first Gulf War in 1991.
But his son, seeking to modernize Jordan and draw Western investment, is far more dependent on US aid and goodwill.
Analysts say that King Abdullah is moving to ensure that his security services will be able to control dissent if the US takes on an Iraqi regime that many here feel has been already battered by defeat in the Gulf War, and by 12 years of United Nations sanctions.
Though officially the government rules out the use of Jordanian soil for military strikes, the royal palace supports "the American attacks on Iraq, and ... will give both logistical and tactical support for their strikes," says a veteran Jordanian journalist who has close ties to the regime.
Jordan's security organs "flexed their muscles" to limit public displays of surging popular unrest last spring, when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the reoccupation of Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
That decision grated against Palestinians here, who make up some 60 percent of the population but sent a message that trouble would not be tolerated. Parliamentary elections have been put off for a third time, to next year; demonstrations are banned.
King Abdullah "has proved to be three times more ruthless than his father," says the journalist, who asked not to be further identified. "People will yell and shout in their homes and on TV, but won't burn cars in the streets, because the security services are so strong. The king is handling this issue properly, by using this powerful deterrent in a pre-emptive way."
Jordan's dilemma has prompted a new definition of its policy, codified by the slogan "Jordan comes first."
Jordan's decision not to side with the US in the first Gulf War even as Arab nations like Syria and Egypt sent troops to help expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait drew American displeasure that translated into econonic slowdown.
Jordan came out of the cold as far as Washington was concerned when it signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994. Since then, it has been designated a "non-NATO US ally," hosted joint military exercises with US forces, and received an increasing number of aid packages.