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Jordan's predicament

IF IT HADN'T been for the efficiency of the Jordanian intelligence services, the war in Iraq would have spilled over into the Jordanian capital before now. For King Abdullah has thrown his lot in with the West, and the man with the Al Qaeda franchise in Iraq -- the man behind last week's hotel bombings -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is a Jordanian himself.

It isn't just the war. Iraq itself is spilling over into Jordan. The Iraqi embassy in Amman says that a quarter of a million Iraqis now live in Amman, but the embassy has no reliable figures, and others put the figure at closer to 400,000.

Great swaths of the Iraqi middle class have been leaving Iraq to avoid the lawlessness, chaos, and threat to their children from kidnap gangs. Others, such as minority Christians, are leaving Iraq, too, as Islam rushes in to fill the secular vacuum left by Saddam Hussein's departure. Organizations that find it too dangerous to be in Baghdad, such as the United Nations, have set up shop in Amman.

And along with those Iraqis coming to Jordan to escape chaos, there are those who come to create chaos, such as the Iraqi suicide bombers who arrived in Amman with such malignant intent, and the Iraqi terrorist network inside Jordan that helped them.

All previous Iraqi regimes are represented in Amman. There are those who began their careers serving the Iraqi monarchy, such as Iraq's ambassador to Jordan, Atta Abdul Wahab, and there are others who subsequently fled the republic in the wake of coup after coup.

One of the benchmarks of the Iraqi state since the British carved it out of the Ottoman Empire is the violence of its politics. The young Iraqi king was gunned down in his palace, as was his successor, Abdul al-Karim Qasim, whose riddled body was shown on television so that no one could doubt he was dead.

More recently, Saddam's supporters and family members have found a home in Amman. Saddam's daughters live in the Jordanian capital, and a reporter, Larry Kaplow of Cox newspapers, ran into the son of one of Saddam's chief lieutenants, the now imprisoned Tariq Aziz, not long ago in an Amman shopping district.

Some of Saddam's people came with suitcases of money, stolen from the Iraqi people. More recently came members of Iraq's new elite, politicians who have served in a series of US-sponsored provisional governments. Some have houses in Amman, while others, bringing their own suitcases full of money, have bought property in the Jordanian capital. Corruption is rife in the new Iraq, and Amman is a great place to launder the American taxpayers' dollars. The new Iraqi influx has driven up property values in Jordan, too.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Ahmed Chalabi, the once, and perhaps future, favorite of the Americans, used to live in Amman, but he was found guilty in absentia of bank fraud and embezzlement. Unless the Jordanians change the law, he could serve 20 years in jail if he shows up again.

Ambassador Wahab left Iraq after King Faisal II was overthrown in 1958, but was kidnapped years later by Saddam Hussein's thugs and smuggled back to Baghdad where he was tortured and sentenced to death on suspicion of being a British spy. His sentence was commuted, but he spent long years in prison, including five and a half in solitary, where he spent his time translating English books into Arabic, including the works of Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.

The ambassador told me that he is trying to help Iraqi artists, university professors, of which there are 832 teaching in Jordan, and businessmen who have been dislocated. The professors, in particular, lost their pensions when they left Iraq. I asked if the Saddam sisters ever dropped by the embassy. ''Oh, no, " said the ambassador.

Jordanians are not altogether happy with the Iraqi exiles in their midst. Jordanians find Iraqis on the whole a bit rough, and their Arabic accent strikes Jordanians as harsh.

But as times worsen in Iraq, Jordanians can expect more and more Iraqi exiles in their comparatively tidy kingdom. And, sadly, more terrorism too, as the fallout from Iraq destabilizes the Middle East.

H.D.S Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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