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Iraqis Retreat to Jordan's `Little Baghdad'

Iraqis seek refuge from sanctions where they can trade, feed their families, start a new life - a letter from Amman

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WHEN the rigors of life in embargoed Baghdad grow unbearable, those Iraqis wealthy or desperate enough can always make the 10-hour drive west to Amman. About 30,000 of them have made their home in Jordan - perhaps the only foreign country in the world where an Iraqi feels welcome today - since the Gulf war last year.

Iraqi exiles, travelers, traders, and vacationers throng the streets of this quiet, almost provincial city. They fill the restaurants, and, with a reputation for aggressive driving, they throw their big American-made sedans around the freeways.

Some have come to do business, although traders' dealings with Iraq have dropped off sharply since 42 merchants were reportedly executed for profiteering in Baghdad late last month.

Some, if they have savings abroad, are simply waiting out President Saddam Hussein, enjoying a relatively comfortable life until the day comes, they hope, when the Iraqi leader finally falls, the world readmits their country to the community of nations, and they return to a normal home life.

Others have given up all hope of return, and spend their days pleading with American and European consular officials for a visa, planning a new life elsewhere.

The wealthiest among them, many of them merchants and by no means well disposed toward the government in Baghdad, have bought property here or rented spacious apartments in the chic western suburbs, put their children in school, and settled in for the long haul.

On one recent evening they could be found at fashionable watering holes such as La Bonita Inn, forking mouthfuls of paella Valenciana from steaming bowls while the singer of an Iraqi band crooned Lionel Ritchie ballads under a full moon.

THEIR less prosperous compatriots, perhaps just visiting Amman, crowded into the dim, smoky Al-Diwan restaurant, piling plates with oriental salads and filling the dance floor whenever Ismael Khadr, the resident musician, struck up the distinctive rhythms of Iraqi music on his six-stringed, wide-bellied oud.

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