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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Iraqi refugees hope for US strike
An Iraqi woman looks at a mural of Saddam Hussein 'liberating' Jerusalem
Iraqi exiles blame Saddam Hussein for most of their ills
Kim Ghattas

The Central Cafe in downtown Amman is a typical Arab establishment where men meet to play backgammon, smoke a water pipe and talk politics. The difference is that the only topic of discussion here is Iraq.

Most of the customers at the cafe are Iraqi refugees, stuck in Amman, some already for years as they wait for an answer to their request for asylum from the UN's refugee body, the UNHCR.

If America helps us get rid of Saddam Hussein, then welcome and many thanks to America

Majed Abed Abbas

The plans for a US strike against Iraq may still be unclear and there have been warnings about the consequences such a strike would have for the stability of the region, but Iraqis at the Centraal are hoping it will happen... and soon.

Majed Abed Abbas, a 35-year-old Iraqi Shia, fled his country two years ago. He said he was persecuted as a Shia by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime.

He also got in trouble after helping his brother-in-law flee to Denmark. He blames all his misery on Saddam Hussein.

"We have to save the Iraqis, they are oppressed and they are hungry," he said.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Iraqi refugees would like to see a change of regime

"Iraqis don't care any more who rules them as long as it's not Saddam Hussein.

"If America helps us get rid of Saddam Hussein, then welcome and many thanks to America."

This is an unusual statement in a region where the US is viewed with suspicion, sometimes called the Great Satan and always criticised for its pro-Israel stance.

"We need outside help to topple the regime," Mr Abbas said.

"The Iraqi people are weakened, they are too worried about surviving and putting food on the table, they don't have the strength to rebel against this regime."

Opposition

Trying to get an idea about how much opposition there is to Saddam Hussein inside Iraq is difficult, almost impossible, as no-one will talk openly.

Iraqis outside Iraq are the main source of such information but even then it is difficult to gauge whether the refugees' opinions really represent a trend back inside their country.

Mr Abbas believes that Iraqis will rise and rebel if a military strike is under way to topple the regime.

But he warned that the US should not let the Iraqis down like they did during the Gulf War in 1991 by failing to provide air cover for a growing popular rebellion.

Views attacked

Mr Abbas's friend Jamal Boustani has been in Jordan for six months.

A writer, Mr Boustani fled Iraq because he came under fire for his independent views.

"I suffered a lot in Iraq but I love my country and I hope I will be able to return one day, when Saddam is gone," he said.

A man selling keffiyehs in an Amman market
Amman hosts Iraqi refugees but also many supporters of Saddam Hussein
He is also waiting for an answer from the UNHCR.

"If the answer is no, I will not go back to Iraq. I prefer to commit suicide than to be killed by Saddam," he says dramatically.

But while Iraqis in exile are looking forward to US action against Iraq, their hosts are a bit more wary.

Jordan is stuck between two sources of tension in the region, Israel and the Palestinian territories on one side and Iraq on the other.

The Palestinian uprising next door is making it difficult for the Jordanian authorities to keep things calm in a country where more than 60% of the population is of Palestinian origin.

Oil ties

Now there are worries that a strike against Iraq would be too much to handle for Jordan.

Iraq is Jordan's biggest trade partner and its only source of oil.

In 1991, massive pro-Saddam demonstrations rocked the country.

But Jordan's ties with Washington are vital and in the event of a US strike against Iraq, King Abdullah would have to walk a fine line between those ties and an angry population.

This is the last in a series of features on Iraq by Kim Ghattas for BBC News Online.


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