Jordan is America’s ‘Habibi’
The formula is simple: Jordan is helping the West to destabilize nations of the region, including Iraq and Syria. As a result, hundreds of thousands of refugees are crossing its borders, flooding its deserts and cities. Refugee camps are growing into sizeable cities. Local people get hard-hit by high prices, despondent salaries for the poor, and scarcity of basic services. As a result, the Jordanian government and its elites go out of their way demanding money ‘to tackle the refugee crises’; money from the donors, mainly those in the West and the United Nations. Later, part of this money disappears into the deep pockets of the Jordanian rich, burned in outrageously posh shopping and ‘lifestyle malls’, or on inflated salaries for those working for major ‘international organizations’. There are more and more luxury cars on the streets, while the situation in most of the refugee camps – those that are housing Syrians, Palestinians and others – remains appalling.
The country feels like it is in semi-organized chaos and is a time bomb. Out of the estimated 8 million inhabitants (2014), Jordan, according to UNRWA, was home to 1,951,603 Palestinian refugees by 2008. Some were given Jordanian citizenship, but most of them were not. In Jordan, Palestinians are greatly discriminated against.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jordanian authorities use totally different standards when treating Syrians and Syrian Palestinians:
“Since April , Jordanian authorities have automatically detained all Palestinians who enter Jordan without passing through an official border post, without the possibility of release. No such policy exists for thousands of Syrians entering the same way.”
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are residing in camps or trying to settle and make a living in Amman and other cities.
It is expected that Iraqi refugees will soon be crossing the borders as well.
And it is not only the refugees – in 2012,there were around 1.2 million illegal and some 500,000 legal migrant workers in the Kingdom.
Driving from Amman, the capital of Jordan, to the Naseeb-Jaber border crossing on Highway 15 (the road that connects Amman and Damascus), the landscape appears to be thoroughly monotonous and depressing: poor dusty villages, few basic services, and countless military bases.
“How can you tell which base is Jordanian and which one belongs to the USAF?” I ask my driver.
He is scared to touch this topic. Every time soldiers stop us, he addresses them with a servile smile and as “habibi”, which in Arabic means literally ‘my beloved’. He calls the West Bank – Israel. To him, Americans are good, Assad is bad, Jordanian soldiers are darlings and the Jordanian King, Abdullah II, is simply a saint.
‘The most perfect monarch money can buy’, I suggest, but he pretends he does not hear or understand. I ask him whether he knows that the Jordanian monarchy was set up in 1921 with great help from the British Empire, but again he pleads ignorance.
But at some point, he admits: “Some military airports are used by both the Jordanians and the Americans.”
We pass a couple of those that might fit his description. They are equipped with impenetrable hangars/bunkers rising like ghosts from the desert.
There are also several enormous refugee camps in the area. To see them, we have to exit and drive on much narrower, two-lane, potholed roads.
There is a new camp called Azraq, some 80 kilometers from Amman, which was opened just recently, in April 2014. Although it now only hosts several hundred Syrian refugees, its potential capacity is over 130,000 souls. Surrounded by military installations, radar and old Crusader-era castles, Azraq is now like an enormous silver colored ocean of identical looking dwellings constructed in the middle of the desert, encircled by watchtowers and barbed wire. Police and military patrols are everywhere.
Azraq camp is supposed to lift the burden off from the Zaatari camp, which is now de facto, the 4th most populous Jordanian city and by many counts the second biggest refugee camp in the world.
Overcrowded, dangerous, filthy and lacking most of the basic services including water, Zaatari is not just a refugee camp, but also a recruitment and training facility for many Syrian ‘rebels’. The AP reported:
“Jordan is… officially denying that any training of anti-Assad fighters takes place on its soil, though both Jordanian and American officials have acknowledged it does.”
Extend to which Jordan is willing to cooperate in training pro-Saudi, Qatari and Western combatants is fluctuating and often depends on amount of cash offered.
On 12 July 2014, Al-Jazeera reported:
“Jordan, where the US Central Intelligence Agency has been covertly training Syrian rebels for more than a year, is reluctant to host an expanded rebel instruction programme, US officials say. Jordan’s reticence, confirmed by four US officials, is a potentially serious setback for President Barack Obama’s proposed $500m initiative…”
Near the Azraq camp, I asked two workers who were quarrying stone for road construction at nearby excavation site, whether they were worried about the type of people who will soon inhabit this area. One of them replied: “Yes, and we only hope that Allah is going to spare us all those problems facing Zaatari… The people who are crossing the border and settling in camps are not always the regular refugees. There are also many fighters and extremists living there…”
In Turkey, near the city of Hatay, I witnessed a quite similar situation or something even worse. While reporting for CounterPunch (2012) and later collecting footage for my documentary film for the Latin American network “TeleSur” (2013), I came across those training facilities for Syrian fighters, disguised as refugee camps. All around that historically peaceful and tolerant city of Hatay, the villages were suddenly besieged by jihadi cadres imported from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who were terrorizing the local people with their aggressive behavior and machine guns.
Of course it was a coordinated effort by NATO and Ankara. The fighters were crossing the border at night, fully armed, then returning back to Turkey, many of them injured.
Apaydin village was just a few minutes drive from the road connecting Hatay, and the border with Syria at Cilvegozu. There were refugee camps; at least two of them. One was clearly a military camp, while the other was built for the families fleeing the fighting in Syria.
Now in Jordan, the situation has become very similar. For the ‘outsiders’, it is impossible to get into the camps. Jordanian army and police are surrounding and ‘guarding’ both Azraq and Zaatari, and independent investigation is thoroughly discouraged, even physically prevented. Only those who are escorted and on an ‘official mission’, can enter. There are obviously too many uncomfortable secrets that are being hidden inside and around the camps.
Zaatari, suffers from overcrowding and misery; there is a lack of water and sanitation, but there is also something else: the presence of the force, that is trained to undermine the Syrian state.
Jordan’s regime, which is fully dependent on the United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, are antagonizing both the Syrian President Assad, and even the rebels – those who are not linked to the Saudi-backed military council in Deraa. Jordan has for decades been a staunch ally, a client state, of the West, with tens of thousands of Western military personnel operating in the Kingdom at any given time. It is also a ‘friend of friends of the West’ – those in the Gulf.
The foreign military aid flows smoothly and consistently to Amman, from the United States, United Kingdom and France. And Amman returns favors.
As “The National”, a daily newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, reported on December 28 2013:
“A command centre in Amman, or “operations room” as Syrian rebels describe it, gives military advice to the Free Syrian Army and channels weapons to them for their fight against Bashar Al Assad’s regime… Rebels say there is also a complex, shadowy system of weapons movement, with diverse, sometimes parallel, supply routes.
The command centre works with the FSA and the Supreme Military Council – the FSA high command headed by General Selim Idriss and allied with the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition political alliance backed by Arab states and the West”.
For most of the real refugees, the situation is pure misery.
I manage to speak to several families – Bedouins from Syria – settled outside the Zaatari camp, near the border.
A widow, Ms. Hasna, is trying to take care of her 6 children; 4 boys and 2 girls. Her husband died around Homs, in front of their eyes, just six months ago, when a bomb exploded right in front of him.
Mr. Shlash Khalifa Kadeem is 50-years old, and he has ten children. Frustrated, he shows me empty plastic water barrels:
“We actually have to pay for water, now… We have to pay for almost everything. But how can we pay? We get a very small stipend and there is no work for adults, only for children… Because children can be exploited easily… They are paying them 2 dinars per day, not even 3 dollars… And there are gangs all over Zaatari camp. They charge ‘rent’, even for those free tents provided by UNHCR… It is dangerous there; very dangerous.”
Some 70 kilometers from Zaatari, an enormous shopping mall – Taj –offers air-conditioned, marble luxury to both Jordanian elites, and those refugees who came with bags of money. Here, smartly dressed women with elegant headscarves are smoking water pipes. Cafes offer international fare, and boutiques are full of top brands. Malls in Amman boast of a so-called ‘snob index’ (they compete for the title of the most snobbish mall in Amman) – these are places to show off and to be seen.
But David, a shopkeeper in the center of town, operating right in front of an ancient Roman Theatre, complains: “More refugees there are the more willingness to work for pittance. I cannot take care of my family even on 300 Dinars (around US$400) a month. There is a great and growing gap between the rich and poor in this country…”
Christopher Black, a leading international lawyer based in Toronto, Canada, explained for this report:
“Jordan is a prime example of the manipulation of a small country’s foreign policy for the benefit of the western powers.
King Abdullah is acting as the cat’s paw of Anglo – American – Israeli aggression in the region by his support of the vicious war against Syria and its violation of the UN Charter and international law by allowing his territory to be used to launch attacks by US proxy forces and American “advisers” against Syria, by harboring armed guerrilla and terrorist groups and by facilitating the movement of Israeli forces on its common borders with Syria.
But the monarchy in Jordan is not popular and the economic and social conditions continue to deteriorate while democracy is at the whim of the king. The defeat of the US proxies in Syria and the pressure of events in Iraq is the writing on the wall for the Jordanian monarchy, which now faces the wider threat of the general Sunni rebellion in Iraq…”
Border crossings between Jordan and Syria, including Ramtha, are periodically closed whenever fighting in Syria intensifies, or whenever Jordanian forces get involved in the conflict. When that happens, the Naseeb-Jaber becomes the only operational passage between Syria and Jordan.
Now fighting is also taking place across the border with Iraq, where jihadi, Saudi-backed ISIL is controlling the border area at Iraqi side. And Saudis are close allies of Jordan, and very important donors to the regime in Amman. ISIL, which is now at the doorsteps of Baghdad, is apparently not. The local press is trying to make sense of all this, but it is not easy. Everybody seems to be confused.
The official daily, The Jordan Times, trumpeted on June 18, 2014:
“Jordan’s military capabilities and social make-up are key factors the country can rely on to repel any threats by external enemies or extremist groups, military and strategic experts said”.
But the bravado appears to be theatrical and unnatural. Jordan’s rulers are clearly confused. They are, because their handlers in Washington and London, as well as Riyadh, are confused as well. Jihadi cadres supported by the West, Turkey, Saudis, Qataris (and Jordanians), are suddenly acting on their own.
If nightmarish scenarios keep evolving throughout the region, if Jordan keeps assisting in their formation, it may soon become a country mainly inhabited by the refugees and those green, uniformed habibis.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.