Jordan is proud of its support for neighboring Iraq
Amman, Jordan — "I don't see why anyone should be surprised at King Hussein's support for the Iraqis," exclaimed one veteran Jordanian civil servant. "After all, not only is he descended from the Prophet, but also it was his more immediate ancestors who led the Arab revolt against the Turkish Muslim caliphs."
This question of Arabism vs. Islamism is one that runs through discussions of Jordanian policy here on the 13 hills that house Jordan's capital city.
The Israelis have charged that Jordan is supplying the Iraqi armed forces with arms, and have expressed unease at the emergence of a strong Iraqi-Jordanian axis.
Jordanian officials have denied that any military help in men or materiel has been sent ot Iraq. But, in line with Jordan's general position of political backing for the Iraqi Baathists in their present war with Iran, they say they are willing to send any form of aid the Iraqis need.
So far, they point out, the call for military help has not come through. Many Jordanians seem to doubt that the call will come, and are meanwhile basking in the king of pan-Arab glow their ruler has lent them by his adoption of such an outspoken stand.
"Of course, we are right to support Iraq," says an Amman taxi driver who served 25 years in the national Army. "Any Arab worthy of the name should back Iraq in its fight for Arab rights."
And if his son, now starting an apprenticeship with the Air Force, should be sent to the Iraqi front? "As God decrees it," the grizzled chauffeur says. "Any decent fighter has to be ready to die for what he believes in."
One well-informed businessman here estimates taht all the Army, with its traditional support for the veteran monarch, will certainly back his present stand. So, too, would other traditional supporters among tribal heads and government officials.
He says that a majority of other Jordanians also probably backs King Hussein, on the basis that right or wrong, Iraq is still an Arab country. There are some reservations, he thinks, as to whether the King should have been so outspoken in his backing for the Iraqis, which, this businessman said, was more than even the Iraqis themselves were looking for.
Only a small proportion, from among Jordan's considerable Palestinian population, considered the whole Gulf war a diversion from the basic fight against Israel, this source declared.
Views on Iraq have changed considerably here since Iraq's strong man, Saddam Hussein, and his Baathist regime were regarded as a looming extremist threat on Jordan's eastern frontier.
"Iraq has never been in the refusal fringe," said one Jordanian government official, turning a nice definition of Iraq's traditional intransigence on the Arab-Israeli issue. "Rather, Iraq has been the radical within the negotiating fringe."
"I think the King has seen," said one Western diplomat summing up the royal view, "that Saddam ever since 1978 has been taking Iraq in the direction of moderation and national development that he himself has always advocated." This view now is widely shared among King Hussein's subjects.
The King's shift to this position has been sweetened by generous helpings of Iraqi aid. In the process, his former alliance with the rival Baathist regime in Syria has soured.
But relations have not been but completely with Syria, despite Syrian allegations that Jordan provides backup and training for the Muslim rebels in Syria.
the two countries continue to have many trade links, and Syria retains some influence in northern Jordanian regions, according to local analysts.
Jordanians, most of them conservative by nature and upbringing, express some misgivings over Syria's recent conclusion of a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union.
"But it was natural that the Syrians should seek such aid," says a senior official. "The Syrians are only seeking some counterweight for United States aid to Israel."
The rift between Syria and Jordan continues, however, despite official Jordanian assurances that they want only to improve relations with Damascus.
One casualty has been the Maqarain Dam project, which was to have been jointly developed by the two countries to utilize the Yarmuk River on their common border.
An engineer on the project, which was first mooted in the 1950s, confirmed that the most recent effort had foundered on the rocks of political discord. There now are plans, he says, to pipe water from Iraq's part of the Euphrates River to help alleviate a water shortage foreseen in Jordan.
Water provides an important clue to Mideast politics, and this engineer fully expected the Euphrates plan to go ahead.
The general mood in Jordan thus seems buoyant. The Jordanians have a new pride in the independence and nationalism of their monarch, and the alliance with Iraq undoubtedly has been good for business.
Transit passengers and goods for Iraq, whose ports and airports are closed, now pour in through Jordan. Hotels in the capital are fully booked.
Little attention is paid to Israel's warnings that Jordan should not get tied up too closely with Iraq. The alliance seems to have given the country a new confidence.