- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus Authorities in highly vulnerable Jordan are preparing for what some fear will be a "tidal wave of refugees" across the open desert border with Iraq.

They have also banned several anti-war demonstrations and placed special police units on alert, particularly around the large Palestinian camps near the capital, Amman, where pro-Saddam sympathies run high.

According to one diplomatic assessment quoting a Jordanian official, "A quick war presents no major security problem. A prolonged one could be a nightmare."

A huge percentage of Jordan's 5 million people are Palestinians, many of whom loudly supported Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war. Today many still consider the Iraqi dictator to be a champion of the Palestinian cause against Israel.

Some Jordanian officials also fear that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might use the war in Iraq as a pretext to drive large numbers of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan.

As the war got under way yesterday, there remained much uncertainty about the role and attitude of the country's King Abudullah, 41, added to unease over U.S. war aims.

"Alternatives to the regime of President Saddam Hussein have yet to be spelled out," said Amman's English-language newspaper, Jordan Times.

"One could well be prompted to believe that the U.S. has yet to come up with any," it said. "No Jordanian, no Arab has ever bought, even for one single second, [President] Bush's blabbering about bringing democracy to this region."

The Arabic language al-Dustur was concerned about Jordan's role in the event of a massive flight of refugees from Iraq.

"Developments have exceeded our ability to spare our region a war that our country has sincerely sought to prevent," the newspaper wrote.

"We must bear in mind that we may have to offer necessary aid to our Iraqi brothers who might be forced by war to take refuge in Jordan. … This requires utmost readiness, preparations and solidarity."

There are 400,000 Iraqis in Jordan, most of them opponents of Sadam's rule. But Jordanian police are also concerned about Iraqi agents who may be active in the exile community.

Some Western diplomats worry about the role to be played by King Abdullah, 41, who was educated in the United States and Britain and is considered by many Arabs as "too modern."

The king's Arab credentials are often described as tenuous and his involvement with the United States as out of character with the attitude of most of his subjects.

Jordan has allowed the deployment of three U.S. Patriot missile batteries, has sanctioned the arrival of large quantities of U.S. war materiel in the port of Aqaba and apparently closed its eyes to the activity of U.S. special forces in the frontier areas.

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