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The 2003 invasion of Iraq posed a severe dilemma for King Abdullah. He came under intense pressure from his key Western backers to join the anti-Saddam coalition but knew that to do so might unleash forces at home that could threaten his rule. He tried – successfully, as it turned out – to have it both ways. While expressing dismay at the conflict and, before hostilities started in March 2003, urging a peaceful solution, Jordan joined the US-led coalition.
But its sole officially acknowledged contributions were to accept the stationing of Patriot anti-missile batteries on its territories, ostensibly for its own protection but in fact for Israel’s, and to send two army field hospitals to occupied Iraq. Less publicly, Jordan allowed US and British Special Forces to operate from remote bases in the desert near the Iraqi border.
A similar formula had been adopted during the earlier US invasion of Afghanistan, when Jordan, a declared US ally in the ‘war on terrorism’, had kept out of the fray, except for the provision of a hospital. It was enough to satisfy both the US and UK on the one hand and domestic opinion on the other. Although angry demonstrations were staged in Amman and other towns, heavy security ensured that they did not spiral out of control.
As a result of the ongoing violence in Iraq, about 500,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan as refugees, placing enormous strains on the kingdom’s finances.