Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Answer to Jordan's Economic Woes May Lie in Iraq ; Jordan's Transportation Minister Recently Visited Iraq, and the Prime Minister May Follow Suit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Answer to Jordan's Economic Woes May Lie in Iraq ; Jordan's Transportation Minister Recently Visited Iraq, and the Prime Minister May Follow Suit

Article excerpt

When Mohammad Kalaldeh, Jordan's minister of transport, visited Baghdad early this month for the first time in five years, he was disturbed by what he calls the "annihilation" of the Iraqi people.

"To see people having to sell the hinges and handles from their doors, it horrified me," he says, describing one measure that members of the Iraqi middle class use to scrape up a little money.

Just after his return to Amman, Mr. Kalaldeh continues, a pair of US officials came to ask him about his trip. "You are strangling Jordan, and you are strangling the Iraqi people in order to enforce US policy," he lectured them, referring to the decade-old, US-led United Nations trade embargo of Iraq.

The US insists that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is responsible for the deprivations of his people, not the Western powers trying to restrict Iraq from re-arming the military that the US and its coalition partners crushed during the Gulf War.

But US protestations, in the face of years of dire reports about Iraq by independent observers and humanitarian groups, are sounding increasingly hollow - especially here in Jordan, where the embargo is a pita-and-hummus issue.

Before the Gulf War, Iraq was Jordan's largest trading partner, and Jordanian officials are eager to see commercial opportunities restored.

They say Jordan's businesses are losing ground to countries - such as Dubai, Syria, and Turkey - whose trade with Iraq, some of it sanctioned by the UN and some not, is expanding.

This country's new king, Abdullah II, is trying to revamp the economy, and some analysts say his reforms aren't yet having the desired payoff. A way out of Jordan's economic troubles may lie in Iraq.

"We have a huge market on our doorstep," says Mustafa Hamarneh of the state-backed Center for Strategic Studies in Amman. Re-opening that market, he adds, "can be a very important step toward turning this country around."

Jordan's King Hussein refused to join the US-led coalition during the Gulf War. But as UN-imposed sanctions began adversely affecting his country, he began to lean more Westward. …

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