The Other Hussein

Exploiting the newly sensitized Middle East
From the March 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Following the death of King Hussein of Jordan and the assumption of the Hashemite throne by little-known Prince Abdullah, the world watched with bated breath to see who would be first to take advantage of the newly sensitized Middle East.

Surprise, surprise! Who should be first in the ring than that wild card in the Mid-East pack—Iraq. Saddam Hussein deduced that Iraq and Turkey shared a common problem, the Kurds, and sought also to take advantage of increasing Turkish unease over their country being exploited as a base for U.S. operations in the form of aggressive air-missions against Iraq.

Saddam sent his foreign minister Tariq Aziz to Turkey to seek a new alliance. On the surface, it seemed Iraq’s timing could not have been better. Aziz arrived on the scene to share in the Turks celebration of the capture of their mutual thorn-in-the-flesh, Abdullah Ocalan, champion of the Kurdish cause and leading Kurdish dissident.

Worried at this peremptory action by Iraq, the U.S. quickly dispatched its own representatives to Turkey to patch up any damage done by Aziz and secure Turkey’s continuing agreement to the U.S. utilizing its bases in Turkey for weekly missile launching jaunts to Iraq.

Turkey is caught between a rock and a hard place. Allied with Judaic Israel, they nevertheless are feeling the pressure to become more closely aligned with the Muslim countries of the Middle East. The U.S. operations against Saddam, which they anticipated would end quickly, are now dragging out over weeks, soon to become months. This discomforts Turkey. Nevertheless, weighing its options and deducing that Saddam is still seen as an international pariah, Turkey sent Aziz packing with no real joy for him on the prospect of ending the U.S. mandate to use Turkish bases for control of the Iraqi no-fly zone.

Ignoring U.S. warnings to cease threats to strike at Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Saddam promptly re-issued the same warnings to each of these neighboring countries.

In the meantime, Turkey was busy penetrating northern Iraq with its ground forces in an attempt to wound the Kurdish-held enclave. Their aggression was directed against the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), following hard on the heels of the capture of Ocalan, the party’s leader. The PKK has used mountainous northern Iraq as a base of operations for its strikes in its continuing campaign for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast corner of Turkey.

Saddam’s efforts to raise the heat in the Middle East following the death of King Hussein should be no surprise. As Slobodan Milosevic has discovered in the European theater, Saddam understands that he is dealing with a U.S. power which lacks the will to consummate the battle. Iraq’s bumbling initiatives to unsettle the Middle East in the wake of King Hussein’s death will not be its last. Nor will it be long before other nations jump on the bandwagon. The list of attendees at the King’s funeral showed the world the importance which world leaders attach to Jordan’s role in containing developments in the Middle East.