Attack shows resistance groups' hostility to friendly ties between US and Jordan


IRAQ: The campaign in Iraq to capture or kill members of Saddam's circle is having little effect on the level of resistance, writes Tom Clonan.

Yesterday's bomb attack on the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad is significant for a number of reasons.

It is proof of the continued resolve of resistance groups within Iraq, despite the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

The targeting of the embassy is also a deliberate attack on what is perceived by many in the Arab world to be the close relationship between the United States and the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.

The embassy was selected for attack just days after US Gen John Abizaid was received in Amman by King Abdullah II of Jordan. Commander-in-chief of Central Command (Centcom) and successor to Gen Tommy Franks, Gen Abizaid is a Californian whose parents come from Lebanon. He speaks fluent Arabic and has many links with Jordan.

After graduation from the United States Military Academy in West Point in 1973, Gen Abizaid was posted to serve with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the elite US Army Rangers.

Having gained Special Forces experience in the 1970s with the Rangers and with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he was subsequently sent to Jordan to help instruct the relatively newly formed Jordanian Armed Forces Special Forces. He continued his links with Jordan much later as a Harvard graduate and Olmsted Scholar at the University of Jordan in Amman.

Most recently, it is believed he oversaw the deployment of US and Australian Special Forces units to Jordan before the invasion of Iraq. It is also believed that Jordanian Special Forces assisted these units in offensive operations within Iraq during the invasion.

Known as "the mad Arab" by his colleagues in the US military, Gen Abizaid was carefully chosen by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to oversee US operations in Iraq post-invasion. His fluency in Arabic, his intimate knowledge of the region and his Special Forces experience made him the obvious choice to succeed Gen Franks in Iraq.

Seen as an intellectual amongst the US military elite, it was felt that he possessed the pragmatism and swift decision-making skills required for the volatile and inevitably hostile occupation that would follow invasion. It was also hoped that his ethnicity might make him more acceptable to the Iraqi people and to Arab commentators.

The attack on the Jordanian embassy suggests that resistance groups within Iraq are unconcerned with the ethnicity of the new commander-in-chief of Centcom. It is evidence of their open hostility not only towards Gen Abizaid and his troops, but also to the relationship between Jordan and the US. This close relationship was typified recently by Mr Colin Powell's visit to Amman in May, where King Abdullah signed two new co-operation agreements with the US. The timing of the attack, hard on the heels of this visit and of another by Gen Abizaid to Amman, seems calculated to strike at the heart of the collaborative relationship between Jordan and the United States.

The attack was also calculated to prove that the ongoing campaign to capture or kill members of Saddam's inner circle is having little or no effect on the level of resistance within the country. And it showed a degree of sophistication in that it did not simply consist of an opportunistic or "drive-by" small arms assault on the building.

Rather, it was a deliberate attack involving planning, reconnaissance and the acquisition of explosives and means of delivery. All of these elements suggest a collaborative effort on the part of many individuals.

With the detonation of explosives outside the embassy, the vehicle itself formed the shrapnel which caused so many of the injuries. Luckily for the Jordanians, the blast was dissipated to some extent by exploding out into the surrounding street. Had the charge been shaped or had the vehicle been rammed into the building itself, the death toll could have been much higher.

As this attack took place, US troops in Baghdad were engaged in firefights with armed elements in various suburbs. These daily occurrences are proving costly to the US.

In this war of attrition, the Americans have lost more than 250 troops in Iraq to date. More than 113 have died since President Bush's May 1st announcement of the cessation of "major combat". With US troops falling victim to small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on a daily basis, the prospects for Gen Abizaid and his staff are grim.

Based on current estimates, the US will possibly have lost hundreds of troops by Thanksgiving and Christmas. As hundreds of families across the US face the loss of loved ones, pressure will inevitably mount on President Bush to justify the ongoing occupation.

Dr Tom Clonan is a retired army officer with experience in the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. He is a fellow of the US-based Inter University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society. He lectures in the School of Media, DIT.