Jordan: The War Next Door
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JIM LEHRER: Now, how the Iraq war is seen and felt in neighboring Jordan: Special Correspondent Simon Marks reports.
SIMON MARKS: In the mosques of Jordan, tears are being shed over the war in Iraq. In the City of Irbid, one hour’s drive north of the capital Amman, worshippers last Friday were mourning the loss of four Jordanian students killed in the opening hours of U.S.-led air strikes on Iraq. And the moment Friday prayers ended, angry demonstrations began. Protests against the war have been taking place all over Jordan. They are getting larger and they are getting louder. And in some cases, police move in with teargas and water cannons in a bid to disperse them. The central message of these demonstrations– polls show that it reflects majority opinion, at least on the Arab street of Jordan– is that in Iraq, the U.S. is engaged in a war of aggression and has bitten off more than it can chew.
PROTESTOR: Thousands of Cruise missiles are being launched on Baghdad every single day.
PROTESTOR: Every single night, civilians are dying.
PROTESTOR: Civilian casualties. Innocent people are being maimed. ( All talking at once )
PROTESTOR: Bin Laden is going to give it to you.
SIMON MARKS: The war in Iraq now dominates life in Jordan. Wherever you go, competing pan-Arab television networks– al-Jazeera is only one of them– bring the latest from the battlefront into stores and offices, restaurants and living rooms. The story they tell is of civilian casualties, of Iraq giving U.S.-led forces a run for their money, a story that speaks to those here convinced that America is making a deadly mistake. Bassem Awadallah is Jordan’s minister of planning, and a close aide to King Abdullah.
BASSEM AWADALLAH, Minister of Planning, Jordan: Unfortunately the images of war and destruction and of civilian suffering of this war are not helpful to anybody. The longer that this war persists, the more extremism it will breed in the Arab world. And we do hope and pray that an end to this conflict is going to happen sooner rather than later in order to avert the suffering of the Iraqi people.
SIMON MARKS: The government of Jordan is growing increasingly nervous about war on the other side of its border with Iraq. So far, the refugee camps hastily constructed along that border remain mostly empty. The feared exodus out of Iraq has not occurred. But perhaps even more worryingly, human traffic is moving in the other direction. More than 5,000 Iraqis living in Jordan have packed their bags and headed home since the conflict began, they say to answer President Saddam Hussein’s call, and wage a jihad, a holy war, against U.S.- led forces.
MAN (Translated): I’m an Iraqi, I can’t allow my country to be occupied, and this is an occupation. I’m a Muslim and this makes my blood boil. There’s no way I can sit in Jordan and just watch the news on television. I’m going back to my country. Whatever happens, let it happen.
MARWAN MUASHER: We are definitely walking a tightrope.
SIMON MARKS: Marwan Muasher is Jordan’s foreign minister. He wants to preserve the country’s friendly ties to the United States, but worries about the pressure from the streets.
MARAWAN MUASER, Foreign Minister, Jordan: People are angry and frustrated, there is no question about it. And this is something that we have always cautioned the U.S. and others about. The street is angry. Any time there is war in the region against an Arab population you are going to find, of course, that kind of reaction.
SIMON MARKS: The longer the war goes on, the larger these protests become, and the bigger the problem they pose for the government here in Amman. And it isn’t only the political opposition to the war that worries the government. The conflict is also costing Jordan an enormous economic price. Hikma Pharmaceuticals in the center of Amman has got a problem. One of Jordan’s largest manufacturers of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, until two weeks ago, it shipped 15 percent of its product to Iraq. Today, boxes bound for Baghdad stack up on the factory’s shelves, and the company’s chairman has only questions about the future.
MAZEN DARWAZAH, Chairman, Hikmah Pharmaceuticals: Our dilemma today is shall we continue manufacturing, shall we stop manufacturing, and what shall we do with the goods that have been manufactured so far? If this war goes on beyond a period of six weeks, I think the Jordanian economy will suffer a lot. And once we start suffering, it will spill over.
SIMON MARKS: In other words, companies will start laying off workers, adding to Jordan’s problems. The price of gas is also giving the government a headache. Until war began, Iraq supplied gas to Jordan at highly preferential rates. A U.N.-approved deal allowed Jordan to buy Iraqi crude for just under 10 U.S. dollars a barrel. Today, the oil tankers that once shuttled from Baghdad to Amman are at a standstill, leaving Jordan on the hunt for alternative, more expensive supplies. And at the end of the day, the government here wonders not only whether the higher price of oil will be worth paying, but whether the military action can achieve its goal of liberating Iraq and transforming it into a democracy that will export reform throughout the Arab world.
MARWAN MUASHER: Democracy, as the United States is very well aware of, is an evolutionary process. It is not a process that just happens overnight because of a certain event. It is a culture that needs to be embedded in people and needs to evolve over time. So I don’t think that anybody is expecting democracy, full democracy to suddenly occur in the region. I think if one keeps insisting on that, what you will see is full radicalization of the region rather than full democracy.
SIMON MARKS: In a country that is home to 1.5 million Palestinian refugees, it is the fear of radicalization that preoccupies government officials. They argue that even if Iraq emerges as a gleaming, modern democracy, the perception on the streets is that the U.S.A. is hypocritical to force Iraqi compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, while failing to hold Israel to the same standards.
BASSE, AWADALLAH: When you speak about Iraq, immediately people mention Palestine. Immediately. That is the reaction; they cannot separate the two issues. When you say the U.S. role in Iraq, what is the U.S. trying to do in Iraq, immediately the question that comes in response is “what about Palestine?” What is the U.S. doing about the Palestinians? What is the U.S. doing about a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict? That is the major issue that the U.S. has to confront in this region.
SIMON MARKS: And the protestors of Jordan seem determined to try and keep that issue in the limelight even as the war in Iraq continues. The Jordanian government fervently hopes for an end to the conflict to head off further upheaval at home.