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Jordan's call for volunteers to fight Iran misfires

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The Palestinian professor lowered his voice and glanced around the room -- more to enhance the conspiratorial atmosphere than out of real fear of being snooped upon.

''Look,'' he whispered, ''why get more involved in that stupid war with Iran. What do we get out of it? If a Palestinian wants to fight, let him fight for Palestine.''

His is not the only opinion like this in Jordan. King Hussein's recent decision to form a Jordanian volunteer force to fight on the side of the Iraqi Army is being greeted in this quiet, subdued capital city with quiet skepticism. Palestinians especially, who make up more than 50 percent of the kingdom's population, are questioning the idea.

Since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980, Palestinians here and elsewhere in the Arab world have been critical of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for invading Iran.

The decision to attack revolutionary Iran was seen as opportunistic and shortsighted. It was criticized by leading Palestinians for diverting attention away from Arab confrontation of Israel. With new worries that Israel is prepared to attack Palestinians in southern Lebanon -- and also possibly Syria and Jordan -- deeper Jordanian involvement in the Gulf war is seen as misplaced priorities.

The Jordanian government is hesitant to answer questions about the numbers signing up for the King's new ''Yarmuk'' force (named after a decisive Arab battle against Byzantium in the 8th century) or about what sorts of bonuses are being promised. Judging by conversations with Jordanians from various walks of life, however, there does not appear to be a flood of volunteers.

But, if official accounts are any indication, quite a war chest is being collected.

Major Jordanian businesses and labor unions are reported daily to be sending money to support the force -- the Jordanian Petroleum Refinery Company donating


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