- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, March 18 (UPI) — Security was tightened Tuesday at U.S. and British embassies in Jordan, as people in the country sought any news of possible war with Iraq, which shares a 100-mile border with Jordan.

The Jordanian government was preparing for a U.S.-led war on Iraq, as an 8 p.m. EST Wednesday deadline, set Monday by President George W. Bush, neared for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave the country or face military action.

Jaber Halteh, who owns a small supermarket in Amman, had his television set tuned into the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel. Bush, he said, "can't tell someone to leave his country or face war. Iraq is Saddam's country, not Bush's."

Halteh predicted that Saddam and his sons would "never leave their country, no Arab would. They would rather die than go away. … At least that's what they should do, stay."

One customer, Mohammad Abu-Shakra, interrupted to argue: "Is it better for thousands of Iraqis to die to save the life of 10 people in power? Saddam Hussein should just go and spare his people death and more destruction."

Abu-Shakra, a sales representative for a prominent pastry franchise in Jordan, told United Press International that he wished the Iraqi president "would just die and go away. He has been causing us nothing but trouble since he invaded Kuwait."

He said he was among 300,000 Jordanians who were forced to leave Kuwait after Iraq's invasion of the emirate in 1990.

One bank clerk, who identified herself as Hind, said she was angered by Bush's military plan against Iraq, saying he had no right to topple leaders, "even if they are dictators."

"How arrogant and insolent is this man and his government?" she asked. "How dare he say he wants to liberate Iraq from a dictator? He (Saddam) is our dictator, not his."

Meanwhile, Jordan said Tuesday it expected difficult times ahead as security was visibly increased around the U.S. and British embassies in the capital, Amman. Heavily armed police and blue armored vehicles were deployed around the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in the affluent district of Abdoun and at the British Embassy a few blocks away.

Officials said security was also strengthened around the homes of Western diplomats who have remained. Non-essential staff and their families were asked to leave Jordan.

Despite heavy sandstorms Tuesday, Jordanians rushed to stock up on fuel and food notwithstanding government assurances that there is enough oil and food supplies to last several months.

Some residents said they were stocking up on heating fuel in case oil supplies from Iraq were disrupted or prices rose.

Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said his government had requested "economic assistance from several Arab countries, especially if the oil supplies from Iraq are disrupted."

Iraq's Trade Minister, Mohammad Mehdi Saleh, said during a visit to Amman on Monday that his country would continue to supply the kingdom with oil in the event of a war.

Jordan receives oil from Iraq at concessionary prices. All the oil is transported overland by truck, with special permission from the U.N. Sanctions Committee supervising the international embargo imposed on Iraq since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The official Jordan News Agency, Petra, quoted Muasher as saying his government had taken all "measures to guarantee that the Jordanian citizen is not affected by the war."

But he described the next few weeks as "very difficult. We are in a very crucial position after diplomatic efforts failed to keep the Iraqi issue under the umbrella of the United Nations."

Muasher stressed the "need to protect the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq and for the people of Iraq to live in peace and stability."

He added that Jordan would cooperate closely with other Arab countries "in the next phase to face its (war's) difficult consequences," and repeated that the country would not be used by U.S. forces to launch attacks against Iraq.

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