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As war proceeds, tensions grow in Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan—News that four Jordanian students were killed in bombing Sunday in northern Iraq fueled a growing anger here over the U.S.-led war on Iraq at a time when Jordanian government officials are besieged by complaints they have allowed U.S. troops to operate from bases inside Jordan near western Iraq.

In a country whose government calls itself the United States' closest friend in the region, 4,000 demonstrators burned three American flags and chanted anti-American slogans Sunday. The government says it has allowed 55 demonstrations in the last two days. In the week before the war, the government allowed two, and refused to give demonstration permits to about 12 groups.

The four Jordanian students were killed during the third day of U.S. bombing in Mosul when a missile exploded near their car. The students—who were among about 4,000 Jordanians studying in Iraq—were trying to leave Iraq when they were killed. Mosul is one of Iraq's oil-producing cities.

Last week, another Jordanian was reportedly killed along the road to Baghdad when an American helicopter fired a missile at a communications center where the man had stopped to make a phone call.

The anguish Jordanians feel about the war with Iraq comes at several levels. Iraq has always been a major trading partner for Jordan and is the source of nearly all of its oil supplies, under a special pricing arrangement that pre-dated the 1991 Gulf War. Jordanians fear further economic repercussions from the war.

Jordanians also say they are disturbed by the live images of bombings of Iraqi cities that they can view on television.

The death of Jordanian citizens in those bombings creates additional anger.

Opponents of the current government say the anger, now directed at the U.S., might soon be directed at the Jordanian government. "It is not about who is killed; it is about who is doing the killing," said Labib Kamhawi, a former university professor who now is an outspoken government opponent. "It will get more violent."

Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb appealed Sunday for a diplomatic solution to the war. He said he shared the anger of demonstrators.

"The people in this country are angry, and we are angry," Abu Ragheb said. In this war, "there will be no winners."

But he also said Jordan would not send its foreign minister to an Arab League meeting in Cairo intended to show unified Arab opposition to the war.

Jordan is depending on the United States to help it survive about $1.5 billion in economic loses from the war.

Sunday, Jordan also became the first Arab country to expel Iraqi diplomats since the war began, saying they committed security violations. Two Iraqi consular officers and an assistant to the cultural attache were given 24 hours to leave the country, according to Jawad al Ali, a spokesman for the Iraqi embassy. The diplomats left for Syria 12 hours later, al Ali said.


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): IRAQ-JORDAN