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Most Jordanians React with Anger and Frustration at War Against Iraq - 2003-03-20


Jordanians have reacted to the start of war in neighboring Iraq with a mixture of anger, humor and pragmatism. And, some Iraqis residing in the Jordanian capital, Amman, are tempering their anger by seeking refuge in religion.

War in Iraq so far does not appear to be disrupting the daily routine of most Jordanians. But anger and frustration over the crisis is taking many different forms.

Several small demonstrations erupted in the capital on Thursday, with protesters denouncing the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Washington's close ties with Israel. More marches are planned for the coming days.

"We have to be frank about this. Before this thing started, people always thought of Israel as their number one enemy," explained political analyst Labib Qamhawi. "But now it's changing and more and more people believe that America is enemy number one. And this is because of many developments, basically because of the U.S. policy toward Iraq and the free hand given by the Bush administration to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon to do what he doing in the West Bank and Gaza."

Mr. Qamhawi fears the war in Iraq will spur more terrorism, not less. "For us in the part of the world, we believe the U.S. administration is unleashing a new wave of terrorism that cannot be controlled or handled," he said. "And, this will be international problem because a lot of people feel insecure. A lot of people are angry now."

In Amman's central market, moneychangers are putting politics aside and taking a pragmatic approach to the war. One trader shows off his piles of Iraqi currency, one pile of dinars showing a line of horses, another with the usual portrait of Saddam Hussein. Pointing to the dinar with the horses, he says this one is more valuable now because people think it will be in circulation again once Saddam is gone.

The war in Iraq does not escape the satirical wit of Jordanian playwright Nabil Sawalhat. In his latest play, called Hallucinations, he does not hesitate to poke fun at both Saddam Hussein and George Bush.

"Anger is brewing, but I will always make a laugh about it," said Mr. Sawalhat. "I will always express people's point of view but will that frustration go, will the killing in Palestine stop, will it stop Bush from going into Iraq. I can't, I know I have my limits." A bit of laughter, he added, sometimes helps to defuse the anger.

For Iraqis waiting in Amman for news from home, their religion provides some solace. A special service Thursday evening in a downtown church attracted 100 exiled Christians from one of Iraq's many minority groups. The priest Father Emmanuel Stephen al-Banna says families come for worship or a cup of tea and a chat to calm their nerves.

One middle-aged woman whose son was killed during the 1991 Gulf War has no sympathy for Saddam Hussein. But she opposes a war that could harm the Iraqi people. She shakes her head and sighs, what did we do to deserve this, she asks.

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