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Jordan's main highway to Baghdad nearly empty as war nears

AMMAN, Jordan—Jordan's Highway 10 to Baghdad, usually bustling with trucks carrying goods and oil between the two cities, was nearly empty Wednesday, except for a dozen GMC Suburbans carrying diplomats and journalists fleeing the Iraqi capital.

With war seemingly certain, Jordan also began preparing for an influx of refugees, though none had arrived. A sandstorm thwarted the Red Crescent's effort to erect 1,000 tents to house 10,000 of the expected 60,000 refugees.

Journalists and diplomats arriving here said Baghdad residents are arming themselves with handguns and boarding up businesses. President Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard is now protecting government buildings.

The emptiness of Highway 10 underscores the tension as people here wait for war. Twenty-two percent of Jordan's exports go to Iraq. Officials here say 4,000 Jordanian drivers will likely lose their jobs if there is war.

Mohammed Hadid, president of the Jordanian Red Crescent, the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross, said 131 volunteers from his organization had hoped to finish preparations Wednesday, but were only able to set up poles for 10 tents because of high winds. He said he hoped they would finish Thursday, when winds were forecast to be a mere 12 mph.

"We are just hoping nothing will happen, and this will be just a training exercise for us," Hadid said. "God willing, we are still hoping."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.