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Jordan, Iraq Improve Ties
by Gary C. Gambill
Relations between Jordan and Iraq have been improving considerably since the ascension of King Abdullah II one year ago. In part this is a function both of the Jordanian King's desire to improve relations with the Arab World as a whole and the cooling off of Jordan's ties with Israel. However, the frequency of visits by top Jordanian officials to Baghdad in recent months suggests that a qualitative strategic change in relations with Baghdad is taking place. As a result, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein now exerts a considerable degree of political influence over Jordan.
According to Jordanian officials, this improvement of ties is borne out of economic necessity.
The perception that peace with Israel has not brought the country tangible economic benefits is widespread, as are complaints that Israel has reneged on its water commitments under the treaty. Meanwhile, the expected level of American economic aid to the Kingdom has not materialized. In contrast, warmer ties with Baghdad are likely to yield considerable economic dividends.
Last month Jordanian Minister of Trade & Industry Mohammed Halaiqa and Minister of Energy Wael Sabri visited Baghdad and held talks with their Iraqi counterparts that resulted in a new one-year oil agreement that is extremely beneficial to Jordan. Under the agreement, Iraq will donate $300 million worth of free oil to Jordan (an increase of $50 million from last year) and provide the rest of Jordan oil needs at the fixed rate of $19 per barrel (well below the international market price).
These developments signal the failure of American attempts to persuade Jordan to reduce its energy dependence on Iraq. In fact, the Jordanians are clearly planning to rely on Iraqi petroleum imports over the long term--after his return, Sabri announced that a $370 million project to construct a 700-kilometer pipeline connecting the Al Haditha oil wells along the Jordanian-Iraqi border to the Jordanian oil refinery near Al Zarqa will begin next year. "There are no plans, either now or in the future, for dispensing with Iraqi oil or searching for alternative petroleum sources," said the Jordanian Energy Minister, noting that the U.S. has failed to persuade Saudi
Arabia to provide it with oil supplies on similar concessionary terms.1
Jordan's decision to rely upon Iraqi petroleum over the long term paves the way for the expansion of trade between the two countries. During Sabri's visit to Baghdad, the trade protocol between the two countries was set at $300 million (an increase of $100 million from last year). Jordan is now the fourth largest exporter to Iraq (after France, Russia, and China) under the U.N. oil-for-food program.
Closer economic ties between Amman and Baghdad will clearly have political and strategic implications--one does not invest in the construction of an oil pipeline unless there is a commitment to maintain warmer political ties over the long term. As a result, Baghdad's influence in Jordanian politics is growing considerably. According to Al-Quds al-Arabi, a previous minister in the Jordanian government was sacked by Abdullah because the Iraqis declined to sign an oil agreement with him.2 Courting Iraq is clearly high on the agenda for Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdel'ilah al-Khatib, who is reportedly planning to embark on his second trip to Baghdad this year. Abdullah is unwilling to even discuss American suggestions that he cooperate with the Iraqi opposition.
Although the Jordanian population has always been relatively sympathetic to Iraq, the Jordanian government is now permitting these sympathies to be openly expressed.
During a visit by the Iraqi Trade Minister in 1997, the Jordanian government ordered him to leave Amman after he urged Jordanian merchants to violate the embargo on trade with Iraq and banned similar public appearances by other Iraqi officials. Saleh's return to Jordan last month and the warm reception accorded to him during a meeting with Jordanian industry representatives at the Amman Chamber of Industry was a revealing indication of how much things have changed.3
To the chagrin of American officials, Abdullah recently permitted the Jordanian National Mobilization Committee for the Support of Iraq to stage a spectacular public relations coup by collecting 3.5 million pencils from the public and delivering them to "Iraqi schoolchildren" (an apparent violation of UN regulations prohibiting the import of graphite into the country). A recent editorial in the Jordanian press praised the activists for "demonstrating their solidarity with the Iraqi people and challenging Anglo-American control of the United Nations."4
1 Al-Quds al-Arabi, 3 February 2000.
© 2000 Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. All rights reserved.
2 Al-Quds al-Arabi, 3 February 2000.
3 Al-Dustur, 31 January 2000.
4 Al-Ra'i, 3 February 2000.
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