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Jordan - Post-Saddam Iraq poses new threats in Jordan

The November 9 terrorist attacks on three hotels in Amman perpetrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq put the focus on Iraqi-Jordanian relations. Historically, Iraq in the era of the Baath and military coups was a source of concern for Jordan.

This was the case even during the period when Iraqi-Jordanian relations were at their best. Yet since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraq has become a strategic security concern for decision-makers in Jordan.

Jordanian diplomacy has handled this concern with great caution, albeit nervously.

Jordan sees both challenges and threats in post-Saddam Iraq. First, Iraq is increasingly being transformed into an arena of Iranian influence and power. Jordanian officials are watching with concern the Iranian double game in Iraq. On the one hand, Tehran supports the current political process there because it will bring a partisan Shiite majority to power in Baghdad. But on the other, it supports fundamentalist elements and armed groups in the Sunni areas with the aim of confusing and threatening the American military presence in Iraq.

In this context, Jordan has warned of the danger of the rise of a "Shiite crescent" controlled by Tehran, which can extend from South Beirut and Lebanon through Damascus and Baghdad into Shiite areas in some of the Gulf countries. The last thing Jordan probably wishes for is to find itself surrounded one day from the east and the north by boundaries with "Iran": small, divided countries and regimes under the control of "the governance of the jurisprudent."

Secondly, to confront this threat some Jordanian politicians and decision-makers have suggested building a "Sunni Arab wall" in Baghdad and some areas in western Iraq to block the extension of Iranian influence and power. Other Arab countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also quietly discussing such an approach. This was behind the recent initiative of the Arab League to sponsor reconciliation and unity among Iraqis. This is also the approach that has pushed several Arab capitals to court the representatives of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq and even to open communications channels with the "resistance movement" in Iraq.

But the theory of "building the Sunni Arab bloc" under the diplomatic slogan "the Arabism of Iraq" clashes with the absence of an effective Iraqi Sunni partner. Sunni political representation in Iraq is distributed among dozens of parties and tribes, alongside individuals and power centers. Most of the influential actors belong to fundamentalist or Baathist movements unacceptable to Jordan, who often accuse Amman of offering aid and facilities to the United States and Britain in their war against Iraq.

If the Jordanian warnings regarding the danger of the rise of a Shiite crescent have produced tough responses among the Shiites of Iraq despite Jordan's serious efforts to contain them, the strategic nature of American-Jordanian relations has not helped Amman win the confidence and support of broad sectors of Sunni Arabs dispersed among extremist fundamentalist and nationalist movements.

The third threat/challenge from Iraq faced by Jordan is terrorism. As a result of a "constructive chaos" policy, Iraq has become a stronghold and a vanguard of international terrorism that spreads "destructive chaos" and seeks to export terror to neighboring countries, particularly Israel and Palestine. This is a new strategy that Al-Qaeda adopted shortly after the war in Afghanistan. From its point of view, Jordan is an appropriate testing ground for the strategy.

Moreover, as the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Iraq was transferred to the Jordanian Ahmad Fadeel Nazal al-Khalila, known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda developed its own reasons to focus its attacks on Jordan. According to the Jordanian security services, Zarqawi is seeking "personal revenge" against Jordan, in addition of course to the "general mandate" given him by Al-Qaeda.

Since the fall of the Iraqi Baathist regime 33 months ago, tens of terrorist cells have been discovered in Jordan - more than a cell a month. Jordanian courts are busy trying to handle tens of suspects and dozens of stacked interrogation files. True, most of these cells were discovered during the preparation stage before attacks were perpetrated, but they also succeeded in less than a year in carrying out major attacks in Aqaba and in the Amman hotels. Before that, they assassinated the American diplomat, Lawrence Foley.

It is evident that most, if not all, of these terrorist attempts and attacks were planned in Iraq. Notably, the "successful" Al-Qaeda operations against Jordanian or Western targets in Jordan were performed by non-Jordanian actors. Foley was assassinated by a Libyan terrorist; the Aqaba operation was performed by Syrian and Iraqi terrorists; and the three hotels were targeted by a terrorist cell comprising Iraqi elements. This indicates that Al-Qaeda is now resorting to using non-Jordanians who are abundant in Iraq, and about whom the Jordanian security services do not have enough information.

This leads us to the fourth threat or challenge facing Jordan from post-war Iraq. The military operations there and the spread of security chaos, alongside a bad economic situation, have forced many Iraqis to immigrate to Jordan, joining the hundreds of thousands who had arrived since the 1990s. There are no accurate official figures on the size of the Iraqi community in Jordan, but estimates range between 500,000 and 800,000, with some putting the figure as high as one million. Sources in the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq say that the Jordanian Interior Ministry estimated that Iraqi citizens in Jordan who are entitled to vote range between 300,000 and 500,000. The commission itself reckons that the real number of Iraqis in Jordan entitled to vote is much higher.

In the absence of accurate information on these individuals' backgrounds and areas of residence, given that the vast majority are in Jordan illegally, and recognizing the terrorist organizations' growing dependence on these Iraqi elements in targeting Jordan, the increasing numbers of Iraqis in Jordan have become a real security problem. They also cause socio-economic problems by placing increasingly high demands on resources and generating unemployment among Jordanians.

Hence Jordanian authorities have initiated a campaign to "reorganize the Iraqi presence" in Jordan. They are allowing those who wish to, to leave the country without paying any fines, and expelling those who break the laws. There is also an effort to limit the number of Iraqis allowed to enter the country to 100 persons per day.

Post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has become a threat to Jordan's security and stability. This is why Jordanian diplomacy strongly supports the current political process in Iraq. It hopes that this process will maintain Iraqi unity, so that Jordan does not find itself confronting an "extremist Sunni province" in western Iraq, on its eastern borders. Jordan also hopes Iraq will protect its Arabism vis-a-vis non-Arabic elements and not surrender to Iranian power. It seeks to restore stability and security so that Iraq does not turn into a destructive source of violence and terrorism in the region, and to build Iraq's institutions on the basis of the participation of all Iraqis, without exclusion or elimination.

This article first appeared on bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter. Oraib Al- Rantawi is director of the Al- Quds Center for Political Studies, Amman.

Amman,12 20 2005
The Daily Star
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