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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Analysis: Jordan's balancing act
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

Jordan's King Abdullah and US President George W Bush, June 2004
King Abdullah is a key ally of the US

The offer by King Abdullah of Jordan to send troops to Iraq is an important diplomatic opening to the new government in Baghdad as it seeks to establish itself as the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people.

It is also another example of how the tiny kingdom of Jordan maintains its diplomatic balance in one of the world's toughest regions.

The offer will please the US and builds on the signals previously put out by Jordan that it is willing to co-operate with the handover of power. It is already training Iraqi police and soldiers in Jordan.

"This could open the road to Arab countries offering a constructive approach to the Iraqi government, said Daniel Neep, head of the Middle East programme at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"They were lukewarm to the previous Iraqi Governing Council but they now need to work with the interim government," he said.

Pendulum swing

The offer comes after Jordan's discreet support for the war to remove Saddam Hussein. It allowed US special forces to operate from Jordan into the so-called "Scud box" in the Iraqi desert, from which missiles were fired at Israel during the first Gulf War of 1991.

In that war, however, King Abdullah's father, King Hussein, openly sided with Iraq. Before that, Jordan's port of Aqaba was the main entry point for Iraqi supplies during its war with Iran. Shipping lined up in the Gulf of Aqaba like buses.

A burned vehicle sits outside the Jordanian embassy, 7 August 2003
Militants targeted the Jordanian embassy in Iraq
Now the pendulum has swung again as Jordan repositions itself behind the new US-planned Iraq.

It may have already paid dearly for aligning itself with the US - one of the first bombings of the anti-US insurgency in Iraq was against the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 11 people.

Jordan's position has probably been helped by the fact that Ahmed Chalabi, once the US' favourite in Iraq, has been sidelined.

He is wanted in Jordan where he was convicted in his absence on major fraud charges.

Having him play a prominent role in the Iraqi government would have been difficult for Jordan.

According to Mr Neep, the offer of troops might not lead to their deployment.

"The Iraqis have up to now been reluctant to have troops from its neighbours in case they side with any ethnic group," he said.
JORDAN'S ARMED FORCES
Active soldiers: 88,000
Air force: 12,600
Public security force/police: 25,000
One civil defence brigade
Small coastguard
Professional force

Source: Jordanian government data

"Perhaps King Abdullah was speaking from the safe position of knowing that he is unlikely to be asked. Remember he was speaking to the BBC and therefore primarily to a Western audience. Has this offer been made directly to the Iraqis?"

Shared history

It is no surprise either that Jordan should want to develop good long-term relations with Iraq and to have a friendly, moderate Iraq as its eastern neighbour.

King Abdullah is a descendant of the Hashemite dynasty which in 1916 under Hussein bin Ali, head of the clan, led the revolt against the Turks.

In the 1920s Hussein was pushed out of the Arabian peninsula by the Saud family, but the British installed his sons, Faisal and Abdullah, in Iraq and Transjordan, later renamed Jordan.

Hashemite rule in Iraq ended with a coup in 1958, but it has lived on skilfully in Jordan.

There have been suggestions in recent years that the monarchy be restored in Iraq and even a rather fanciful one that Jordan and Iraq might be united under a Hashemite king.

Those days of drawing and redrawing borders as Britain did in the 1920s are gone, but the Jordanian royal family is mindful of the links.

Prince Hassan of Jordan
Jordan's Prince Hassan paid a strategic visit to Iraqi exiles
A meeting in London of Iraqi exiles before the war in 2003 was electrified by the unexpected arrival of the Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan, King Abdullah's uncle.

The prince said suavely that he was "just here to see old friends", but everyone understood the significance - Jordan was siding with the opposition to Saddam.

And so it has proved.

But there is no certainty that the new interim government made up of many of those opposition figures will want to be seen to be aligning itself with Jordan or any other neighbouring power.

With Jordan and Iraq in particular there is little love lost between the two populations - apart, that is, from the ties of kinship between certain tribal groups.

The last thing many Iraqis would want would be to have Jordanian troops there to safeguard their security.

Economic development

Jordan has another motive: developing ties to the East.

It has made its peace with Israel, but the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians means that economic development in the region will be limited.

Jordan needs to look elsewhere for its trade and tourism and perhaps even one day its security.

Many of its people are Palestinian in origin. In 1972 King Hussein fought a bloody campaign to force Palestinian fighters out.

There is always a risk of destabilisation one day - and having a good neighbour in Iraq must be a priority for the Jordanian rulers.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
King Abdullah of Jordan:
"If we don't stand with them... then we will pay the price"



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