Accessibility links

Travelers on Road to Baghdad Voice Fears of Iraq War - 2003-02-25

With a possible war against Iraq looming, people in the region are increasingly worried about the effects of such a conflict. VOA's Sonja Pace went to the Karameh border crossing between Iraq and Jordan and spoke with some of the men who drive the Amman-Baghdad highway about their thoughts and fears.

Eastern Jordan is a dry, windy and lonely place. The small villages in the area are few and far between. The vast, mostly flat desert, speckled with black volcanic rock gives an other-worldly look to the place. There is no vegetation to speak of, but here and there Bedouin herdsmen watch over their small flocks of sheep and goats nibbling on whatever might sprout out of this barren ground.

A long black ribbon stretches across the horizon, it's the highway that runs from Amman toward Baghdad. It's a busy road. The traffic is almost exclusively heavily-laden tanker trucks ferrying oil from Iraq to refineries in Jordan.

Just on this one day, we see maybe 100 such trucks, but thousands of them ply this road, their Iraqi and Jordanian drivers making the trip four or five times a month. For Jordan, this is its energy lifeline; for the drivers it's a way to earn a meager living.

The men's main concern is the long trip; they care little about politics, they say. But, they do know that war could well be coming this way.

"I don't like war, I like peace," one driver said. "There's no war, inshallah."

The driver, who gave his name only as Mohammed expresses the hopes of most of the men here. They say they don't want war, but most also feel it will come anyway, and they blame the U.S. administration. They say they don't believe the American argument that Saddam Hussein is a threat.

Abdel Amir is from Baghdad and worries about the American troop build-up in the region. He says one can only trust in God.

"The news is not good. They are saying the Americans are sending more planes," he said. "We hope that peace will prevail and we don't want war."

That sentiment is echoed by others on the road.

Bassam and Ahmed are cousins. Both are Iraqi. They don't want war, but they seem resigned to it. "War is destruction, but what can we do. Since we were young we fought with Iran, now we are fighting with the Americans," they said.

Many of the Iraqi drivers here remember the brutal eight year-long Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Then came the Gulf War of 1991 and international sanctions against Iraq. And now another conflict is looming.

There is a certain amount of bravado out here, most of the men say they're not afraid of war. Iraqis are used to it, says this 30-year-old driver from Baghdad, who also gave his name as Mohammed.

"There are no fears," he said. "The Iraqis are used to wars, its normal, and the people are living just a natural life."

But, none of the men wants to give his full name and few can be expected to talk openly since they have to continue to go back and forth across the Jordan-Iraq border. Those who have families back in Iraq, could be subject to reprisals.

Hassan, 30, comes from Irbit in northern Jordan. He is among the most outspoken here on the road. He scoffs at American allegations that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed and deprived of his alleged weapons of mass destruction.

"Everything is because of money," he said.

Hassan says if he's given a weapon, he'll fight alongside Iraq, but he also acknowledges that would be little use against America's sophisticated arsenal.

And, he is very aware of the devastating economic consequences a war might have. "The first thing is the Jordanian economy will collapse," he said. "If this oil line is closed because of war, we will be destroyed."

Many here know they could be directly affected if war shuts down the oil fields or the traffic on this road.

And there is also concern about what would follow a war. The United States says the Iraqi people would be better off without Saddam Hussein as their leader. But Abdel Amir from Baghdad is adamant that Iraqis do not want American rule. He quickly adds, that Saddam is better.

"We don't want anybody but Saddam," he said. "Saddam is one of us and we don't want to be ruled by an American."

Driving one of these trucks day after day along this stretch of road is hard work, but at least these men have work. For them, the past years have been tough, and they see no indication that things will get better any time soon.