Jordanian attack on militants reveals a national rift
For the first time since 1970, Jordan has resorted to using the armed forces to quell domestic instability.
There were no evening prayers Wednesday as hundreds of Jordanian soldiers downed their rations at the end of another day's Ramadan fast, and clambered back into their tanks to impose a sixth night of curfew on the 70,000 inhabitants of Jordan's desert town of Maan.Skip to next paragraph
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Spotlights blazing, a vanguard of armored cars topped with loudspeakers and machine guns cruised the streets ordering residents back to their homes. Convoys of tanks chugged behind. Residents said the tanks had pounded the suburb of Al Tour earlier Wednesday. Security sources said six soldiers and policemen and four residents were killed in the fighting. Scores were also injured in what observers called the biggest military campaign the army had waged inside Jordan since the crushing of the 1970 Palestinian Revolt.
Jordanian analysts have been quoted as saying the crackdown on Islamic militants in Maan reveals a gaping political vacuum in the kingdom. For the first time in his reign, King Abdullah has resorted to using the armed forces, after suspending parliament and postponing elections. But except for bus and truck drivers prevented by checkpoints from driving through Maan on their way to the Saudi border, the capital seemed largely insulated from events further south.
But in unusual display of sympathy for radical Islamists, Jordan's largest political party, the normally acquiescent Muslim Brotherhood, criticized what it called the siege of Maan by government forces. "It is unacceptable and reflects the martial mentality pursued [by the government]," it said in a statement.
Officials in Amman vowed there would be no let up in the hunt for armed Islamist groups, as Maan bore the brunt of Jordan's contribution to the war on terror. Since the killing of a USAID official in Amman on Oct. 20, Jordan has been eager to prove it can combat Al Qaeda's clones, without the intervention of US troops exercising in Jordan's desert near Iraq.
But the army's assault has made for rough conditions in the occupied town. "We've had no bread for five days," says a mechanic huddled behind his garage shutters. "It's as if we were the enemy."
Relatives in the neighboring village of Wadi Musa said they had collected food parcels, but were unable to get them through government lines. And mobile and fixed telephone lines in Maan were cut. For five days the country's main highway linking the capital to the country's only port was barricaded 25 miles to the north. Maan was sealed to the outside world.
Only when soldiers abandoned their posts to break their Ramadan fasts in the twilight could this correspondent sneak through the cordon. Inside, Maan was a ghost town under military rule. Mosques normally packed with worshipers praying the special tawarih prayers for the holy month of Ramadan were empty. The local hotel was open, accommodating troops. So too was Musa's grocery keeping the Army supplied with cigarettes. A series of checkpoints across the town prevented access to the heart of the fighting.