- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

MAAN, Jordan Children played with the spent rounds from big-caliber machine guns beside houses pockmarked with bullet holes. A row of cars, their tires flattened by gunfire, lined the shabby, dusty street.
At first sight it is an all too familiar scene from the Middle East. Yet the fighting in the Jordanian desert city of Maan is especially alarming because of its threat to the stability of the reign of King Abdullah II, a U.S. ally in the Middle East.
"The people here feel that the government treats them in an unjust way. They started to make a revolution against that injustice," said Daif Abu Darwish, 56, a shopkeeper.
A week of intense fighting in Maan saw the first clash between the Jordanian army and an armed political group since King Hussein's suppression of the PLO in the "Black September" campaign of 1970.
But in contrast with Black September, this uprising took place in the tribal heartland of the regime and a recruiting ground for much of the army.
The week of unrest in the fragile buffer state that sits between Iraq and the West Bank has claimed six lives.
Maan is one of the poorest cities in Jordan and a stronghold of Islamic radicalism. It became the refuge for Mohammed Shalabi, an Islamic extremist from the Takfir wal-Hijra group.
Three weeks ago, Mr. Shalabi was wounded in a gun battle with police and fled to Maan. Bedouin chiefs refused to hand him over.
The authorities responded with full force. Thousands of soldiers and armed police, supported by tanks and helicopter gunships, moved into Maan and sought to crush Takfir wal-Hijra and capture Mr. Shalabi. King Abdullah's government announced that it would not tolerate a rival "state within a state."
Yet the six-day operation, during which Maan's telephone and road links with the rest of Jordan were cut off, did not catch the main suspect. Two policemen and four other men were killed, and 136 persons were arrested.
Military checkpoints overlook every junction in Maan and the city 140 miles south of the capital, Amman remains a closed military zone. The United States' foremost ally in the Arab world will be intensely vulnerable to popular unrest if an attack on Iraq is begun.
Yesterday new clashes in the city left one person dead and several injured, the Associated Press reported from Amman.
It quoted officials saying the violence began when a mob attacked a police vehicle to protest the arrest of a youth who had thrown stones at a patrol car.
Later, a crowd attacked police, firing guns at the officers. The police returned fire, killing one man. A curfew was enforced in the city, but gunfire continued into the night.
By keeping hundreds of soldiers and police in Maan, King Abdullah is seeking to crush the first signs of dissent for fear that the turmoil could spread.
People in Maan accuse the security forces of brutality.
The security forces conducted a heavy-handed search operation in the al-Tour area, where Mr. Shalabi took refuge and the fighting between the army and his followers was fiercest.
Mohammed Abdul Kader Arawad, 41, said 25 armed police broke into his cousin's house.
"Four times we shouted, 'There is no one here,' but they fired into every room," he said.


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