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Jordan's Potential Role in a Post-Saddam Iraq

If Saddam falls, King Hussein is well-positioned to play midwife to Iraq's reemergence into the family of nations, despite lingering anger over his opposition to the Gulf war

ON July 14, 1958, Feisal, the young King of Iraq and cousin of Jordan's King Hussein, was brutally murdered in a sudden, unexpected coup dtat. A military dictatorship was installed in Baghdad, setting Iraq on a course that would lead eventually to President Saddam Hussein and the 1991 Gulf war.

The Hashemite family of Jordan's King has been gone from Baghdad for nearly 36 years, but it is not forgotten. Iraqis do not necessarily romanticize the ``Golden Age'' of Hashemite rule. Indeed, while the Hashemite rulers of Iraq (Kings Feisal, Ghazi, and Feisal II) all seem to have been decent men, some of their key henchmen were not terribly popular. Although the coup surprised everyone (and led to the dispatching of United States forces to Lebanon), many Iraqis welcomed the ascent of Abdel Karim Kassim, a military officer who appeared, at first blush, to be very similar to Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, the ``hero'' of the Arab world at the time. Within a few short years, however, Kassim would suffer the same fate as his royal victim.

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The real reason why the Hashemites seem to be held in high regard by Iraqis today is because Jordan, which cultivated Iraq throughout the 1980s and supported Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war, chose not to abandon Iraq when it invaded and occupied Kuwait. Much to the annoyance of his friend, President Bush, King Hussein pressed for a diplomatic solution long after most observers deemed one impossible to achieve. The king's broadcast speech of February 1991, in which he seemed to be drawing upon his moral authority as a member of the Prophet Muhammad's lineage in calling upon Arabs everywhere to save Iraq from destruction, was seen in the West and some crucial Arab quarters as a gratuitously negative, unfriendly, even threatening gesture.

To this day, the king and many of his advisers still believe that Saddam somehow could have been talked out of Kuwait, but that the US had decided long before the bombs began to fall that it preferred to expel Iraq by force. The king was and is profoundly mistaken. King Hussein today maintains that the international sanctions against Iraq weigh very heavily indeed on the Iraqi people. Be that as it may, Saddam is an irresistible magnet for Iraq's misfortune.

Post-Saddam, a politically fragmented and economically depressed Iraq will need real leadership and international acceptance to revive its sense of self-respect and to establish itself, for once, in a position of positive regional leadership. Might it be possible for the King of Jordan, drawing upon the goodwill he has accumulated within Iraq, to help the Iraqi people through their recovery process? Might Jordan be able to provide its good offices in encouraging the various Iraqi political factions to cooperate and compete within the context of a parliamentary democracy?

Notwithstanding the past Hashemite linkage between the two countries, Jordan and Iraq have traveled separate paths as nation-states. Aside from a very loose and short-lived federation in 1958, union between Jordan and Iraq never existed even when both countries were under Hashemite rule. Leaving Iraq's problems aside, King Hussein himself is essential as a positive influence in the Arab-Israeli peace process and as a force for stability in Jordan itself. The issue as it relates specifically to Iraq is whether or not the Western and Arab Coalition that liberated Kuwait and that was opposed (at least rhetorically) by Jordan can work through its anger with King Hussein and consider dispassionately the prospect of a creative Jordanian role in Iraq's future.

The potential obstacles to such a role are considerable. Saudi Arabia, whose leaders still fear what they consider to be Hashemite pretensions to pan-Arab leadership, would no doubt resist the prospect of a long-standing rival dynasty playing a key role in a post-Saddam Iraq. Syria would continue to view an Iraqi-Jordanian entente to be disturbing. Iran would no doubt try to obstruct the re-creation of a unitary Iraqi state, although respect for the Hashemites certainly exists in Iran's ruling circles. From the Jordanian perspective itself, the memories of 1958 remain fresh. Iraq has always been a difficult country to manage, so Jordanians themselves might be understandably reluctant to become enmeshed in a political culture in which violence has been so ubiquitous.

Yet a Jordanian role in the resurrection of Iraq has its attractions. King Hussein's controversial words and actions with respect to the Gulf crisis have earned him considerable goodwill among many Iraqis. A respected and fair-minded King of Jordan, enjoying impeccable credentials as a Muslim, might prove to be the essential honest broker in helping to heal the Arab-Kurdish and Sunni-Shiite rifts that Saddam has aggravated within Iraq. King Hussein's ties to Iraq's oppressed Shiite community and the respect with which he is viewed by Iraq's Shiites - the largest community in the country - might play a key role in terms of national reconciliation and unity. An experienced and constructive statesman such as King Hussein - notwithstanding the words and actions that frustrated and infuriated some of his strongest admirers - might help guide Iraq to a position of respectability commensurate with its status as a member of the United Nations and other international organizations.

Western and Arab leaders who resisted Iraqi aggression and were deeply disappointed by Jordan during the crisis would do well to evaluate calmly the possibility of a constructive Jordanian role in the creation of a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Iraq - a country destined, for better or worse, to be a major regional player once again. Such a reappraisal will not be easy or pleasant for the leaders of Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states. Some of them are still terribly angry. Yet Iraq will be back, and among many Iraqis the King of Jordan enjoys a very special credibility. Indeed, King Hussein is well-positioned to play a positive role in the region as a whole.

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Perhaps when Saddam and his clique no longer rule Iraq, the Iraqis themselves - the people, the military, the various factions seeking to take and maintain power - may see it as to their individual and collective advantage to have the King of Jordan help referee their inevitable disputes and midwife Iraq's return to the community of nations. King Hussein would be ill-advised to press openly for this role. Yet if such a request ever comes from Baghdad, the coalition that liberated Kuwait would do well to encourage the king to render such a service.

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