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THE WORLD FROM...Ruweished, Jordan

On Iraq-Jordan border, US focus on illegal trade prompts Jordanians to ask why they get all the attention

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LOOKING out from this desolate border post along the empty highway that leads east through the desert to Baghdad and west to Amman, the world seems a pretty hostile place.

After all, it was the world, in the form of the United Nations, whose trade embargo of Iraq turned this road - once one of the busier trade routes in the Middle East - into an almost unused stretch of asphalt.

Aziz Absul, the Jordanian customs chief here, is used to journalists asking about how well he is doing his job. But the weariness of voice as he responds seems only partly due to his familiarity with the questions.

His tone also implies a certain resentment, shared by many Jordanians, at all the international attention Jordan has been subjected to over US allegations that its authorities were permitting sanctions-busting on the border. That attention peaked with a visit late last June from US Central Intelligence Agency chief Robert Gates, who is understood to have applied heavy pressure on King Hussein to tighten up his frontier.

There is the new Ruweished customs post itself, Mr. Absul points out, constructed last October in the middle of nowhere, 60 miles into the desert from the town of Ruweished. The forward position is designed to reduce the strip of no-man's land along the border available to smugglers.

And in the distance runs a low ridge along the horizon, an earth wall nine feet high behind a ditch nine feet deep, that stretches the 125-mile length of Jordan's border with Iraq, also to deter smugglers.

JORDANIANS seem not to resent the king for tightening the embargo, but they are frustrated that the international fingerpointing is selective.


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