Jordan - It's the wrong image, especially with the Palestinian facing Israeli tanks and with the Arab world facing neo-colonial crusader-style control. But then it's the wrong regime - this Abdullah II Hashemite Regime which controls Jordan on behalf of the West, just as it was set up to do by the Brits more than 80 years ago.
Jordan Faces Threat of Iraqi Conflict
By HAMZA HENDAWI
AMMAN, Jordan (AP - 20 Dec) - The image of five hands supporting Jordan's black, red and green flag emblazoned below the words ``Jordan First'' is seen everywhere in the Jordanian capital - on giant billboards, posters and stickers.
The slogan for a heavily publicized campaign launched by King Abdullah II to unify the country, ``Jordan First'' sums up the thinking of a small nation faced with what may be its most daunting challenges since its creation 81 years ago during British colonial rule of the region.
The crippling impact from a possible war between its main Western ally, the United States, and its powerful neighbor, Iraq, tops Jordan's list of worries. Other challenges include the possibility of a spillover from Israeli-Palestinian violence in the West Bank and the threat of terror attacks.
``We are trying to keep a balance,'' Prime Minister Ali Abul-Ragheb said this week when asked about the looming threat of war. ``But at the end of the day, we shall do our best for the interest of Jordan and its people.''
That may not be easy.
An Arab kingdom of 5 million people, Jordan is worried that a U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein could result in political chaos in Iraq.
A war could also mean the arrival in Jordan of Iraqi refugees and rising anti-American sentiments among a Jordanian population both sympathetic to Iraq and deeply angered by Washington's perceived bias in favor of Israel.
The economic fallout from the war could be equally devastating in a country where 40 percent of the population live in poverty. Jordan's shaky economy could suffer initial losses of $2 billion from a war.
The top casualty would be the more than $700 million annual trade with Iraq, which supplies its neighbor with oil free or at low prices in return for food and medicines and is Jordan's biggest trading partner.
The worries over war come as many in the county, whose population is 60 percent Palestinian, grow alarmed by Israeli-Palestinian violence and the calls by extremist Israeli politicians for the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan.
TV images of Israeli-Palestinian clashes have revitalized opposition to Jordan's 1994 peace treaty with Israel and sent thousands into the streets to demand closing the Israeli embassy. Authorities have on occasion used heavy handed methods to deal with protests and finally slapped a ban on demonstrations.
Still, even more worrying to Jordanians is the prospect of war.
``They are stuck,'' said Rosemary Hollis, a Middle East expert at London's Royal Institute for International Affairs. ``They have to demonstrate that they are on the right side of the U.S.-led coalition and at the same time escape any retaliation from Iraq.''
U.S. special forces recently carried out war games here with Jordanian, British and French soldiers, but the government says it has not been approached by the United States for permission to use its military facilities in any conflict and insists it will not be a launching pad for war against Iraq.
Experts, however, believe Jordan could face a tough decision about use of its land - given the damage to its relations with the West after it refused to join a U.S.-led coalition that threw Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in the 1990-91 Gulf War.
``Certainly a U.N. resolution allowing military action against Iraq would make it much easier for Jordan and other U.S. (Arab) allies to participate in military action against Iraq,'' said Ian Kemp, news editor of Jane's Defense Weekly.
Abul-Ragheb, the Jordanian prime minister, says authorities are ``in control of the border'' with Iraq and - should war erupt - would work with the United Nations to care for refugees in camps on the Iraqi side of the border.
At home, Jordan has cut in half the six-month visas that were routinely granted to visiting Iraqis and has rounded up and deported those illegally in the country. An estimated 500,000 Iraqis are thought to be in Jordan.
Since the October assassination of a U.S. diplomat outside his Amman home, Jordanian authorities have arrested two suspected al-Qaida members, reportedly rounded up scores of suspected Muslim militants for questioning and beefed up security in the capital.
Security forces also forcefully put down rioting by Muslim extremists in the southern city of Maan last month, and King Abdullah's suspension of parliament last year has allowed the government to issue a series of ``temporary'' laws curtailing freedoms and restricting the media.
Abul-Ragheb said Wednesday that authorities were keeping a close watch on Jordanians who fought in Afghanistan against Russia in the 1980s and may have maintained ties with al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden's terror network.
``We hope that the people will tolerate these measures, which are for their benefit,'' said the prime minister.