Jordan Defends Stance in Gulf War

When United States Secretary of State James Baker III visits the Middle East this week, one leader noticeably absent from his talks will be Jordan’s King Hussein.

Although the U.S. and Jordan have in the past cooperated closely on regional issues, the two countries experienced a falling out over the question of Jordan’s neutrality during the Gulf war. Despite the current rift, however, interests common to both countries are likely to determine future relations, Western officials here say.

Both recognize that the other will be essential to any lasting postwar arrangement, Jordanian and Western diplomats here say. With that in mind, U.S. officials are already reviewing their decision announced by President Bush early last month to freeze $75 million in aid to Jordan, Western sources say.

Senior Jordanian officials are less sanguine about establishing warmer relations with the U.S. in the near term.

That will depend largely on the terms the coalition demands from Iraq in settling the Gulf war, and whether the U.S. and other coalition countries put pressure on Israel concerning its occupation of Arab territories also in violation of United Nations resolutions, they say.

Equal treatment demanded it. “It is not enough just to look at the area under a series of bilateral terms with preferential treatment,” says Awn al-Khasawneh, a senior Foreign Ministry official and advisor to Crown Prince Hassan lbn Talal.

“We hope that there will be greater resolve to address the Palestinian question on the basis of international legitimacy,” he says.

Jordanian officials maintain that their policies have been consistent, having advocated a political settlement to both the Iraqi-Kuwaiti and Israeli-Palestinian disputes.

Jordan opposed both occupations and never recognized Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, they say, arguing that Mr. Bush’s characterization of King Hussein as having taken a “pro-Iraqi tilt” was unfair.

“It is a question of perception,” says Khasawneh. “We think the perception the West has of us is wrong. Jordan has not been an apologist for Iraq, but an apologist for peace.”

“We feel very bitter and sad that the concern for the people of Iraq and their suffering has been interpreted as trying to frustrate coalition aims,” he adds.

Although senior U.S. officials felt personally insulted by the king’s speech three weeks ago condemning Western military action, they understand the king was responding to strong domestic pressures, Western sources say.

The Jordanian populace, more than 50 percent Palestinian, has been overwhelmingly pro-Iraq throughout the crisis.

“He [the king] is in tune more or less with his people, much more than any other Arab leader,” says another Western diplomat.

Washington is not about to underestimate King Hussein’s role in the region’s stability. He will be a useful interlocutor among Arab countries to help mend fences, Western officials say, and will continue to be essential to any formula for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He might be isolated from the West now, but the West will need him,” says the Western diplomat.

Divisions between Arab and West must first be overcome, however, Khasawneh says. “Deep wounds have been inflicted on a sister Arab state, and we can’t expect people to switch on and off their feelings,” he adds. “In part, confidence building measures are needed.”

Jordanian officials complain the destruction of Iraq’s economic infrastructure and military capability went well beyond the coalition’s UN-mandate, and the coalition should have accepted a cease-fire as proposed by King Hussein long before last week.

“The temptation of humiliating a defeated state or of imposing conditions aimed at the public humiliation of a people always [produces] results other than those intended,” says Khasawneh. “We hope that the United States will [now] aim at winning the peace instead of just trying to win a military conflict.””

Jordanians Lament Iraqi Move for Early Withdrawal

Amman, Jordan– THE jury is still out on whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is a hero or a failure among his supporters in the Arab world.

As they try to make sense of Saddam’s dramatic announcement Feb. 25 that he is abandoning Kuwait, many Jordanians say they remain faithful to the Iraqi leader. But shortly after the announcement, Jordanian government officials, who have been sympathetic to Saddam, said that he has effectively conceded defeat. Saddam is now likely to be perceived as having failed, they say.

“I think it has gone too far now,” says a senior Jordanian official who has supported Saddam. “You can’t fool the Iraqi people.”

Jordanians in the street and even some officials were surprised and upset upon hearing of Saddam’s announcement. “Deep in their heart, they always wanted him to fight longer and harder,” says a senior military source. “I don’t think he’s bloodied (the coalition forces) as much as anybody would like to see.”

But despite the confusion, most still clearly support the beleaguered Iraqi leader. “He will still be a heroic figure (in the Arab world). They’ll say he stood up to the West long enough that he didn’t just give in,” says the military source.

Jordan is also encouraging the United States-led coalition forces not to attack Iraqi troops while they’re withdrawing and to accept a cease-fire.

“That’s the position we have taken all along,” says a senior government official. “That’s what they should do if they want peace and to stabilize the situation.”

Iraqi Tactics: Avoid Early Combat

Amman, Jordan — Iraq is likely to employ tactics designed to minimize the effectiveness of coalition air support, according to military experts in Jordan.

Jordanian military commanders knowledgeable about the Iraqi Army’s training, tactics, and weaponry say Iraqi troops will likely try to avoid major combat in the ground campaign’s early stages. Instead, they will seek to lure United States-led coalition forces well into southern Iraq and Kuwait before counterattacking with main-force units.

Radio Baghdad confirmed that a series of smaller Iraqi Army units were already engaged in the ground war’s first day.

Contrary to last week’s claim by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf III, the U.S. coalition commander, that the Iraqi Army is close to collapse, these experts suggest that Iraq retains a formidable fighting force with strong morale.

Iraqi troops’ greater combat experience, familiarity with the terrain, and need to defend their homeland will likely make the ground war last longer and claim more coalition casualties than leaders of the anti-Iraq alliance expect, military experts and Western diplomats here say.

The coalition air strikes designed to soften Iraqi ground forces have probably destroyed fewer targets than coalition spokesmen claim, these experts say.

“I think the reports that you hear about casualties are totally wrong on both sides,” says a recently retired brigadier general who holds a senior civilian post in the Jordanian government and still has access to official intelligence.

One of Jordan’s highest-ranking military commanders agrees. “I don’t believe they’ve knocked out half of what they say.”

According to Radio Baghdad and the pro-resistance Kuwaiti News Agency, the ground war began in several locations, including an amphibious landing on the Kuwaiti shore and ground attacks launched from Saudi Arabia into Kuwait and southern Iraq.

The Iraqi military was expected to take advantage of its well-protected defenses and hidden underground bunkers. The Kuwaiti News Agency reported yesterday, however, that tens of thousands of Iraqi troops surrendered in initial hours of the assault. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Radio Baghdad said its forces were holding firm.

“[Iraqi forces] will not expose themselves,” says the retired Jordanian commander. Once coalition forces are drawn into the theater of battle, then Iraq’s main forces, including the 125,000-strong Republican Guard, will attack, he says.

If the war lasts longer than a few weeks, as experts here expect, weather may also play a role. The dry season in the Gulf usually begins in early March. Windstorms of desert dust, known as the khamasin, can be like raging blizzard snowstorms. Appearing without warning, the khamasin can bring troop movements to a standstill, ground planes, and wreak havoc on motor vehicles and especially high-technology equipment.

Despite the coalition’s technological superiority in weapons, Iraqi troops still have advantages over the coalition forces, military experts and diplomats here say.

Iraqi forces’ extensive combat experience is one asset, says a Western diplomat. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war produced a generation of combat veteran soldiers and officers.

Iraqi soldiers’ familiarity with desert conditions and knowledge of southern Iraq and Kuwait is another likely advantage. They know the layout of cities and outlying areas, while the terrain is new to advancing coalition forces. Dug-in Iraqi troops will make use of the terrain’s ”natural defenses,” military experts say.

Directly contradicting claims by coalition spokesmen, Jordanian military experts say morale could prove to be Iraq’s greatest asset. At least 600 Iraqi soldiers have deserted, and those interrogated paint a picture of a battered and demoralized Army, coalition spokesmen say. Nevertheless, military experts here emphasize that Iraqi forces will be defending their own national territory.