US 'to attack Iraq via Jordan'
Military planners prepare to use British forces in an allied assault within months
Terrorism crisis - Observer special
Jason Burke, Martin Bright and Nicolas Pelham in Amman
Sunday July 7, 2002
American military planners are preparing to use Jordan as a base for an assault on Iraq later this year or early in 2003, The Observer can reveal.
Although leaked Pentagon documents appear to show that Turkey, Kuwait and the small Gulf state of Qatar would play key roles, it is believed that Jordan will be the 'jumping-off' point for an attack that could involve up to 250,000 American troops and forces from Britain and other key US allies.
Jordan, with good roads and communications, would be perfect for the launch of an American armoured force, military analysts say. Its capital, Amman, is linked to Baghdad by a 600-mile motorway that cuts through a virtually featureless desert - perfect terrain for US tanks and high-precision air-launched munitions.
Iraqi dissidents in Amman have told The Observer that hundreds of American advisers have arrived in Jordan in the past few months.
The Amman-based Iraqi National Accord (INA), which contains many of the key military dissidents, has held talks in Washington about plans for a strike on Iraq. They expect the US to begin with intensive bombing and missile raids launched from the Gulf and Turkey, leading to a military rebellion within Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard.
The INA, they say, could play a military role from Jordan. They envisage a military coup, leading to transitional military rule.
Eye-witnesses claim preparations are under way at the Muafaq Salti air base in Azraq, 50 miles east of Amman on the road to Baghdad.
Ten days ago the Jordanian news agency, Petra, reported that the head of the US Central Command, General Tommy Franks, met Jordan's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lieutenant-General Khalid Jamil Surayrih.
The agency said 'the two sides reviewed the general situation in the region and areas of co-operation between Jordanian and US armed forces...' Officially, Jordan is opposed to a war on Iraq, but informed sources said that there is a tacit agreement on the issue between the Jordanian government and Washington.
The US has apparently given Jordan and other Arab states the freedom to pay lip-service to support for Iraq.
News of a military build-up coincides with a US attempt to wean Jordan from its deep economic ties with Iraq, and some observers see a growing military role for Jordan in the country once ruled by its Hashemite royal family.
'Jordan's role will be that of Pakistan in the US-Taliban war,' said a prominent Jordanian analyst. Jordan's economy is inter-woven into Iraq's, and the kingdom shares a close military and economic alliance with the US.
Others say Jordan will pay a heavy price for co-operating with an attack. 'A US strike against Iraq will increase the influence of radicals [in Jordan],' said former Prime Minister Taher al-Masri. 'The feeling that the US is an enemy will be enhanced.'
Although Marwan Moasher, the Jordanian Foreign Minister, denied the presence of any American troops in his country, government sources confirmed that major manoeuvres involving the American and Jordanian forces took place in March. Moasher issued denials after the Lebanese daily Al Safir reported that 2,000 American forces in Jordan are preparing to carry out military operations against Iraq.
Observers point out that President George Bush has met King Abdullah of Jordan at least five times since taking office. The US is expected to double its aid to Jordan to $500m next year, and Congress is now considering a request by the administration to increase it by another $100m.
The American planners now believe only military force can remove Saddam from power. Earlier this year American intelligence operatives were sent to northern Iraq to gather information on Iraqi defences and gauge the fighting capability of the Kurdish militias. The Americans reconnoitred Iraqi frontline positions and requested maps of minefields from demining agencies working in the area. They decided the Kurds would be no match for the Republican Guard.
Some elements in the US administration still hope that disaffected military officers in Iraq can stage a coup. Next week about 70 former Iraqi officers will gather in London for the biggest dissidents' meeting yet to discuss the overthrow of the Iraqi President.
The US hopes some of them retain links with brother officers still in Iraq. The conference is being organised by a former brigadier, Tawfiq al-Yassiri, who took part in an uprising in the Babylon region south of Baghdad at the end of the Gulf war. The co-organiser of the conference is a former general, Saad Ubeidi, who was the Iraqi army's head of psychological operations.
The three-day conference will discuss ways of mobilising military efforts in support of political opposition to Saddam.