A flood of more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees since the U.S. invasion
in 2003 coupled with deep misgivings over the increasing Shiite
influence in Iraq has weakened what was once a strong relationship
between the kingdom of Jordan and its troubled neighbor.
Majority-Sunni Jordan had close cultural and economic ties with
the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein, but its dealings with the
new Iraqi government have not gone as smoothly.
was a long relationship between Jordan and the old Iraqi government
which was quite intimate and wasn't limited to the regime, but
spread to the society," said Joost Hiltermann, the Middle
East project director for the International Crisis Group who has
lived in Amman since 1991. "The people here still feel a
great affinity for the Saddam Hussein regime."
The relationship between the Iraqi government and Jordan hit
a low in December 2004, when Jordan's King Abdullah released a
statement prior to the first Iraqi elections warning of a "Shiite
crescent" being formed in the Middle East. The comment was
widely perceived as hostile toward the Iraqi government.
The two countries have worked together diplomatically since then,
and Jordan continues to support the current Iraqi government and
US involvement in Iraq. But the kingdom remains wary of the threat
posed by a government controlled by Shiite Iraqis with ties to
During Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Jordan on May 14,
Jordan's King Abdullah reportedly urged the vice president to
require benchmarks of the Iraqi government, including giving Sunnis
more of a say.
But in general, unable to exert significant military, political,
or economic influence over developments in Iraq, the Jordanian
government has focused instead on containing internal security
threats posed by radical Islamist groups housed in Iraq.
The threat became reality in 2005, when several Iraqis were found
responsible for a deadly series of al-Qaida-linked hotel bombings
Jordanian officials concerns also stem from the porous nature
of the two countries' shared border. Traffic across the Iraqi-Jordanian
border has continued throughout military conflicts and sanctions
over the past two decades, but has reached its busiest levels
in recent years.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, hundreds of thousands
of Iraqi refugees have streamed into Jordan, seeking refuge from
the turmoil in their homeland, as contractors, aid workers and
government officials travel to Baghdad to help solve the conflict.
"One of Jordan's most significant contributions in the region
has been its role as the 'West's gateway' to Iraq and the preferred
destination for Iraqi expatriates," Daniel
Byman and Kenneth Pollack wrote in an Atlantic Monthly article
in November 2006.
About 450,000 and 800,000 Iraqis have entered Jordan over the
past four years, the writers said.
But security at the Jordanian border has tightened during the
past few months and the number of refugees admitted has waned,
largely because of concerns that the escalating sectarian violence
in Iraq will spill over into Jordan, but also because Jordan's
capacity to host refugees is limited.
The influx of Iraqi refugees has increased the Jordanian population
of 5.9 million by almost 14 percent, according to the country's
General Statistics Department. The effects have been especially
noticeable in the capital city of Amman, where the more affluent
Iraqis started to arrive early in the conflict.
But Iraqis at all economic levels soon began to pour over the
border, many spending most or all of the funds they had to make
the trip to Jordan.
The influx of Iraqi financial capital and people into Amman has
caused housing prices and the overall cost of living to skyrocket,
which has elicited mixed reactions from those in Jordan.
Some economists see it as a positive sign for the domestic economy.
"People come to us as a haven," Yusuf Mansur, an economist
and CEO of the Jordanian economic analysis firm the Envision Consulting
Group, told the Christian Science Monitor in November 2006. "It's
crisis after crisis that drives the [Jordanian] economy."
But others say that tensions between Jordanians and Iraqis have
been exacerbated by the rising costs, and resentment on both sides
"The Jordanians feel the Iraqis are driving up the prices,
which is not an entirely unreasonable observation," Hiltermann
said. "The Iraqis think that the Jordanians are basically
worthless Bedouin. ... They don't like to be dependent on Jordanians,
but here they are."
The sudden population explosion of refugees without means is
straining social services around the country, according to a report
prepared by the US Congressional Research Service, but Iraq has
been attempting to reciprocate for Jordan's generosity by providing
oil shipments at reduced prices.
During U.N. sanctions against Iraq under Saddam's rule, Iraq
provided Jordan, a country without any oil production of its own,
with most of its oil for almost two thirds less than market price,
according to a report written by Scott Lasensky, a senior researcher
at the US Institute of Peace.
The United States also has assisted Jordan in supplementing its
Since the ratification of the Jordan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement
in 2001, Jordan exports over $1 billion worth of goods to the
United States annually, more than 50 percent higher than a decade
ago, according to Lasensky's report.
In exchange for US economic assistance, Jordan has been one of
the United States' most reliable allies in the region. Jordan
has been helpful diplomatically in aiding the American effort
in Iraq -- it privately supported the invasion in 2003 -- but
its role in the reconstruction process has been limited.
"They haven't played a huge role in the reconstruction,"
said Lasensky. "They've provided modest support for the US
role there, they've been more willing than some other neighbors
to work with and recognize the Iraqi government, but for the most
part they're not the one that determines the direction where Iraq
One reconstruction project that Jordan did supply was an international
police training center, which opened in early 2003 and helps train
Jordan also played a pivotal role helping US officials and Iraqis
track down Jordanian-born al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
the mastermind behind the 2005 Amman hotel bombings.
So while the US ally has not provided much military support or
given millions of dollars in aid to Iraq, Lasensky pointed to
Jordan's contribution to the US effort and regional stability.
"They have taken in a lot of refugees, they have sent their
leaders and have visited [Iraq], and they have provided a boost
of confidence for the Iraqi government," he said.