U.S. troops in Jordan prepare to invade Iraq

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jan 6 22:11:56 MST 2003


Sydney Morning Herald January 4 2003
Jordan tries to keep a very big secret
By Sarah Smiles

 On the only highway connecting Iraq to Jordan, oil rigs thunder through the
desert, ferrying cheap oil from Baghdad to Amman. Jordanian exports flow
back, and relations seem normal. Iraq, which supplies all of Jordan's oil at
a cut price, is Jordan's largest trading partner.

 Only the presence of United States troops in the vast Jordanian desert
shatters this mirage.

 "There have been various troop movements in Jordan recently," says Yahya
Sadowski, professor of political science at the American University of
Beirut, and former fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington
think-tank.

 "Jordan will be a key staging area for US troops, particularly special
forces that will be inserted into Iraq's western desert in the early phases
of the war."

 Jordan's King Abdullah II has gone to great lengths to save face with Iraq,
denying a US presence in Jordan and publicly refusing the US access to
military bases. Jordanians living in the dusty truck-stop towns alongside
the
highway to Baghdad reflect their king's predicament - most locals refuse to
discuss the military build-up around their towns.

 "We're not allowed to admit the Americans are here. It will get us into big
trouble. It's a secret to Iraq, so you can't talk about it," says Khalid,
30,
from the town of Al-Azraq, 250 kilometres from the Iraqi border, and home to
Muafaq al-Salti airbase.

 The spectre of a new war on their neighbour nonetheless haunts locals
living
along the highway, who depend on it for trade with Iraq.

 "Iraq is our money, our lives. If the border closes, life will be hard,"
says Watheq, 26, from Al-Azraq, who works in a salt factory that exports
chiefly to Baghdad.

 "We are afraid. We are so close to the border, anything could happen here,"
says Watheq, who fears chemical weapons will be unleashed again in this war.

 He says cancer rates in Al-Azraq have risen since the Gulf War, because of
depleted uranium that has travelled across the border.

 The biggest fear for Anwar, 28, from Ruwayshiad, less than 100 kilometres
from the border, is another influx of Iraqi refugees into Jordan, like that
of the Gulf War.

 "The border was terrible. How can I describe it? There was disease, no
food;
it was shameful. There were thousands of people here with their goats and
sheep."

 As one of the key US regional allies, Jordan has been forced into an
uncomfortable position and stands to lose millions of dollars in trade with
Iraq, absorbing another potentially destabilising wave of refugees.

 "The Jordanian Government is horrified about the likely fallout of an
invasion of Iraq and has told the US so publicly," Professor Sadowski says.

 "Privately the US has been trying to assure King Abdullah that they will
make sure he is protected, including compensation for the lack of oil and
trade with Baghdad."

 Professor Sadowski says Jordan has also asked the US to make Israel promise
not to expel or "transfer" the West Bank Palestinians into Jordan during a
possible war. The Government is worried the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel
Sharon, will use a US attack to deport a majority of the 1.8 million
Palestinians in the occupied territories, making Jordan their substitute
homeland.



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