Iraqis leave Jordan to fight US
The Jerusalem Post
31 March 2003
AMMAN Armed with bulging plastic bags and incensed nationalistic fervor, hundreds of Iraqis a day sign up a day for the 15-hour journey from Amman to Baghdad hoping to enlist in the Iraqi army.
They scribbled their names on a list in the Iraqi Embassy and then boarded a grimy bus headed east toward the Jordanian-Iraqi border. Littered with cigarette butts and olive pits, its upholstery shredded and its driver droopy-eyed from a night's run through a shell-pocked war zone they clambered up into the bus and settled in.
The mass return to Iraq unofficially estimated at over 100,000 men, women and children continues despite the coalition force's clampdown on western Iraq.
"I am going back to support my nation, and to fight," said Hamid
Obeidi, a tank gunner in the Republican Guard.
Obeidi is one of 4,500 men who have returned to their units.
"This is the third Gulf war for us, it has become a way of life, it is what is normal, it is all we know," said Obeidi. If Iraq is vanquished, he said, "then we will continue to fight, even as suicide bombers if we have to, so that Iraq will be a graveyard for the Americans. Those that go home will do it in a box."
This militancy is buoyed by calls from beleaguered Iraq, but also from Jordan, for rebuffing the American campaign. The de facto leader of Jordan's opposition, Muslim Brotherhood leader Leith Shebileit, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that "America has done us a huge favor by launching this war and uniting the entire world against American occupation and imperialism."
He urged all Arabs to stand up to the "the bullying US, and fight"
its "occupation of Iraq."
The nearly empty Raghadan neighborhood, once home to many of 300,000 Iraqis living in Jordan, is a testament to their fervor. The inner courtyards and meter-wide alleyways where a miniature Baghdad once thrived now stand virtually empty. Locals estimate that as many as 90 percent of their countrymen headed back to Baghdad, many to "fight the American occupiers."
Many Iraqi expatriates are convinced that Saddam Hussein provides the state with the leadership it needs. Obeidi's brother Muhammad el-Hitti, an engineer, recalled that in his last two speeches, "Saddam promised us that the world is behind us," and that his path is true.
War or no war, the Al-Dhilal Bus Company, an Iraqi-Jordanian joint venture,
continues to ferry passengers to Baghdad. Day manager Ghassan Ahmed, an Iraqi,
said passengers range from pilgrims headed to the holy city of Karbala to human
shields to fighters.
Inside the darkened terminal a large poster of Saddam smiles at another poster of the late King Hussein.
The journey is a gauntlet of meteorological extremes and ulcer-inducing danger. The 15-hour, 1,000 km. journey costs barely $20, but runs on a potholed road in a zone scoured by coalition forces hunting down fleeing Iraqi officers and possible Scud launchers.
Scarred Chevy Suburbans, plastered with thick strips of red tape reading "TV" stand as a memorial to the hazards of the route in a neighboring parking lot.
Despite the zealous nationalism of men like Obeidi and Hitti, the Iraqi diaspora
in Jordan is sharply divided among those firmly in Saddam's camp and the supporters
of the Iraqi opposition parties.
With flames licking up at Muhammad Ali's fingers as he placed kebab on glowing coals, he recalled with patent misery his term as an Iraqi officer during the 1991 Gulf War.
Riddled with guilt for invading a fellow Arab country for no apparent reason,
he admitted that "some of us even contemplated disobeying our orders."
But in the Iraqi army, such a decision brings only death.
Ali warns: "I am certain that Iraq will use chemical warfare when the
last days approach, on that the Americans can count."
Ali is a cook in the Raghadan bus station. Like most of Iraqis fleeing Iraq's astronomically high unemployment, he earns his daily bread by doing menial labor.
Any alternative to Saddam's regime would suit Ali fine. "It could be a Shi'ite regime, or anything, as long as the US does not occupy it."
At one point, he too weighed returning to Iraq and taking up arms with the Shi'ite opposition groups of the south. "But we cannot forget how the Americans betrayed us in the last war. I promise you that no one will lift a finger to help the Americans until Saddam is removed."