Jordan Caught Between An Ally And Its People

The recent attack by a Jordanian suicide bomber on a CIA base in Afghanistan revealed the depth of the cooperation between the United States and Jordan, its closest Arab ally in the Middle East.

Jordanian intelligence services helped put Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi in touch with the CIA, and Jordan has been deeply embarrassed by the fact that Balawi turned out to be a double agent.

But while the Jordanian government is pro-Western, anti-American sentiment also runs high in the desert kingdom.

'Happy He Died A Martyr'

At the funeral of yet another Jordanian al-Qaida member killed in Pakistan in recent days, men with long beards filed into the reception hall one after another and paid their respects to the dead man's father. But there were no tears of sadness to mourn Mahmoud Zeidan in this Palestinian refugee camp in the Jordanian town of Irbid.

Mahdi Zeidan said his son was a member of al-Qaida who died in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan.

"I'm proud of him," he said. "I'm happy he died a martyr fighting the Americans."

The elder Zeidan said his son left Jordan 10 years ago to further his religious studies in Pakistan. Somewhere along the way, he fell in with the Taliban and then al-Qaida. The family says he was a spiritual adviser to the group. He was 35 when he was killed.

"My son wasn't a terrorist," Zeidan said. "The U.S. are the terrorists who are bringing fear to Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq."

One of Mahdi Zeidan's other sons also fought in Afghanistan. That son was captured by the Americans and sent to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years. He was present at the wake but declined to speak to a member of the Western media.

Outside the hall, Zeidan's third son said he isn't sure whether to go and fight, too.

But Muhammad Zeidan is critical not just of the Americans. Referring to the recent revelation that Jordan helped the CIA, he said his country "is absolutely fighting on the wrong side of the war."

Balancing Ally's Needs With Population's

He is not alone in that sentiment in Jordan.

Analyst Hassan Abu Hanieh says it is no coincidence that men such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who led al-Qaida in Iraq, the recent CIA bomber and other militants such as Mahmoud Zeidan come from Jordan.

"It's close to the Palestinian issue. At least 50 percent of the country is Palestinian. They blame the U.S. for supporting Israel. And then there is Iraq, also on our border, and what happened with the war there. It gets people's emotions here very high," Hanieh says.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States provides Jordan with $660 million in foreign assistance a year.

Sulaiman Ghnaimat, a former Jordanian general and a member of the recently disbanded parliament, says Jordan needs the U.S. in areas such as training, technology, and intelligence coordination and cooperation.

"It is serving our country. It is serving our nation. It is serving even our neighbors. So there are many, many benefits we are getting," Ghnaimat says.

But it is a delicate balancing act for Jordan's government. It must cater to its ally's needs in the war against Islamic extremism while keeping its population appeased.

Jordanian Government Under Fire

Since news of Jordan's involvement with the CIA was made public last week, the Jordanians have been in damage-control mode.

Jordan's General Intelligence Department, or GID, warned members of the CIA bomber's family not to speak to the press. Several analysts were also called and told not to make "inflammatory" statements. At least one local journalist working with the foreign media was hauled in for questioning.

Rohile Gharaibeh, a member of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, says the government realizes how negatively the public views its involvement with the CIA.

Gharaibeh says to express opposition to the government's decisions in Jordan, though, is difficult. Opposition members, he says, are subject to harassment.

Jordan's GID has been cited by human-rights groups for its repressive tactics. It has been accused of detaining and torturing CIA prisoners in America's much-criticized rendition program. Other human-rights reports say it has also carried out arbitrary arrests and abuses of Jordanian suspects.

Ghnaimat, who has worked in intelligence in Jordan, defends intelligence officials' actions, saying Jordan also faces the threat of terrorism.

In 2005, terrorists bombed a series of hotels in Jordan, killing and injuring scores of people.

"[It is] very, very important that they should be very, very active and very, very alert," Ghnaimat says. "First, inside the country, and then around the country — any step which is needed to protect [the country]."

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