The Jerusalem Report
August 12, 2002
The Prince of Baghdad
Insiders moot the idea of reviving the Hashemite Union of Jordan and Iraq
ANALYSIS / Heidi Kingstone London
THERE'S NO DOUBT THAT the surprise appearance of Prince Hassan of Jordan at the opposition Iraqi Military Alliance conference in London in mid-July overshadowed everything else on the agenda of the three-day meeting. But its potentially fiery significance for the rest of the Middle East is yet to be digested.
Far beyond being just a personal gesture of goodwill on the prince's part, say Iraqi and Western sources from London and Washington, Hassan's sudden arrival signals nothing short of a possible revival of the short-lived "Hashemite Union" of Jordan and Iraq that the two neighboring countries signed in early 1958. That Union, between Jordan's King Hussein and his cousin and close friend King Faisal II of Iraq, was supposed to form a federation, with Faisal at its helm and Hussein as his deputy. But the merger was practically stillborn. In July 1958, Faisal was gruesomely murdered in the revolution that threw out the monarchy and brought in the Iraqi republic.
The conference, held at the Kensington Town Hall, was attended by the mostly graying, mostly mustachioed rebels of the Iraqi National Congress, the main opposition umbrella group in exile, along with several dozen former Iraqi army officers, all determined to have a hand in Saddam Hussein's demise. The event came in the wake of President Bush's pledge to work for regime change in Baghdad. Also in attendance were a representative from U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney's office in Washington, another from the Pentagon and a smattering of diplomats.
However, when Prince Hassan turned up, the conference took on a whole new dimension beyond the original mission, described by INC leader Ahmed Chalabi as "sending a message to the Iraqi military that there is life for them after Saddam." Hassan, 55, a brother of the late king Hussein, was the designated heir to the throne of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for nearly 30 years. But in a surprise move from his deathbed in 1999, Hussein appointed his son, Abdullah, then aged 37, to succeed him.
Hassan's appearance at the conference, and the fact that he chose to address the forum, is taken by informed observers as a definitive personal and political statement in favor of resurrecting the Union. Hassan stressed that he had come in a purely personal capacity, with no agenda and carrying no signals. His speech, however, focused on the historical links between Iraq and Jordan.
It is assumed that Hassan attended without the official blessing of his nephew, King Abdullah. Formally, Jordan treads a fine diplomatic line between Washington and Baghdad. Dependent on Iraq for its oil, and in economic dire straits, Jordan has never openly backed the Iraqi opposition.
Hassan, though, is said to have been close to Saddam's opponents for years. His arrival in London was the culmination of weeks of informal chats between him and Chalabi, the "man with the plan" as a Pentagon source describes him. But Hassan only made the decision to attend on the day, aware of the ripples his act could cause.
THE IDEA OF A RENEWED Hashemite Union has been envisioned by many politicians and individuals in both Jordan and Iraq, sources say. The Iraqi opposition, notoriously divided, is far from united behind the proposal but those who do support it say it is a legitimate point of departure. Publicly, the INC maintains that the future of a post-Saddam Iraq must be decided at the ballot box. The appearance of Prince Hassan on the scene simply puts him in the race, insiders say, as one option for the Iraqi people. The practical form that any revival of the Hashemite Union would take is so far being left largely to the imagination.
Those who support the resurrection of the Union describe Prince Hassan as a known quantity. An experienced statesman and a man of peace and vision, he is considered an ideal candidate to champion such a strategic alliance. The supporters of the Union envision it as a pro-Western democratic entity that would contribute to regional peace and stability. Hassan has stood openly against violence and terrorism, has worked for inter-religious dialogue and has staunchly supported Arab-Israeli attempts at peacemaking. A role for Hassan in Iraq, experts believe, could change the face of the region.
But Hassan is not the only candidate to be king of Baghdad. His appearance at the conference seems to have come as a shock to his distant cousin, Sharif Ali bin Hussein, the 46-year-old head of the Iraqi opposition Monarchist Party and a member of the INC's leadership council. Sharif Ali's main claim to the throne comes through his mother, who was Faisal II's aunt.
Hassan's lineage as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad on his father's side gives his claim to the throne much more legitimacy.
That lineage is also seen as a potential unifying factor in a multi-ethnic post-Saddam Iraq that many fear will fall apart. "The monarchy is the glue that will keep the system together," says one American source close to the prince, who is said to be respected by Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds alike. Hassan, he suggests, could play a particularly important role of inclusion for the Shi'ites of Iraq, who make up some 60 percent of the population. Hassan hinted at this when he described himself in his speech as being "responsible for all Muslims."
In a little noticed speech in 1996, the late King Hussein of Jordan hinted at resurrecting the Hashemite claim to the Iraqi crown, describing the Iraqi republic since 1958 as "an experiment."
Perhaps Prince Hassan, once destined to be king, will find a throne after all.