Jordan Moves To Stop Iraq Speculation

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Jordan opened up a desert air base to reporters on Monday as it denied reports the facility was being refurbished to house U.S. troops preparing to strike neighboring Iraq.

"We are frustrated with these reports," base commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Amin al-Quran told 25 foreign reporters during a government-guided tour of the base.

Al-Quran also indicated that Jordan wouldn't participate in any capacity should the United States attack Iraq. The Hashemite kingdom, which borders Iraq to the north and Israel to the west, also sat out the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"We didn't participate in attacking Iraq when others did, so how can we do that now?" al-Quran said.

"Jordan's policy advocates resolving conflicts in peaceful means, through dialogue," he added.

The tour comes as U.S. officials weigh options to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The idea has made Jordan uneasy; the government has had to balance its friendship with the West with anti-American sentiments at home.

The Times of London last week said "major refurbishment" was under way to accommodate U.S. troops at Muafaq al-Salti Air Force Base, 60 miles east of the Jordanian capital Amman and 155 miles west of the Iraqi frontier.

And last week, Prince Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah II, attended a London forum of Iraqi opposition leaders who discussed their role in a possible U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam.

Hassan, a one-time heir to the Jordanian throne, said he attended the meeting as an observer and did not represent the government.

Still, Jordanian opposition elements remain suspicious.

The Islamic Action Front warned on Monday that a U.S. strike on Iraq was part of "American schemes against the Islamic and Arab nations."

Jordanians are sympathetic to Iraqis, whose government claims U.N. sanctions imposed following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait have killed thousands of civilians.

Iraq was Jordan's largest foreign trade partner in 2001, importing Jordanian goods worth about $700 million. Jordan receives 90,000 barrels of Iraqi oil daily at preferential prices under a U.N.-sanctioned deal.

Reporters toured most of the base's facilities, which include houses, missile shops, warehouses, maintenance hangars, sand-covered aircraft bunkers, a runway, staff apartments and entertainment facilities. There were no signs of new construction.

Aircraft seen were mainly American F-16s, donated in 1997 as part of a $300 million aid package to reward Jordan for signing a 1994 treaty with Israel.

Although the aircraft were American and much of the equipment was purchased from the United States, "we don't have American troops here," al-Quran said.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's parliament condemned the United States in an extraordinary session held Monday to rally around President Saddam Hussein at a time of heightened expectations Washington will soon try to oust the Iraqi leader.

    Members of Iraq's National Assembly — all 250 of whom are required to be either members of Saddam's Baath Party or nominal independents loyal to him — pledged full support for any measures Saddam takes to confront American hostility.

  • U.S. warplanes bombed a mobile radar unit linked to a surface-to-air missile launcher in Iraq on Sunday in a second consecutive day of strikes in the southern "no-fly" zone, the Pentagon said Monday.