Talisman Gate

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Boom That Went Boom

November 16, 2005 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Boom That Went Boom

Nibras Kazimi
November 16, 2005

From a purely logistical standpoint, the terrorist attacks that Zarqawi and his organization managed to pull off last Wednesday in Jordan were nothing short of astounding. They are also a measure of how much sophistication he had accumulated since trying to blow-up the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad two years ago. Zarqawi has wedded his zealous ideology to the know-how of Saddam’s well-trained intelligence service. And what we are seeing, rather than being the twilight of Zarqawi’s stature, is the beginning of his pan-Middle Eastern reign of terror.

About a month ago, I was having a very cerebral conversation with a Jordanian security expert about intelligence work, terrorism and the “worst case scenario.” The latter, we speculated, would be a coordinated attack against several targets, such as hotels, at the same time. In the back of our heads, there was the anomalous situation whereby Jordan’s security organizations were befuddled by the Katyusha rocket attacks on U.S. Navy vessels in the southern port of Aqaba back in August; they could not get a handle on the who, when, and what of the case.This was a quantum leap for the jihadist terrorist networks: confounding the much-proclaimed adroitness of the Jordanian mukhaberat, or secret police.

It is hard to put to the side the moral outrage at the sight of innocents torn-up by ball bearings, to dissect the nuts and bolts of this operation. But the Amman suicide attacks should be closely studied, since Zarqawi and the brain-trust around him have calibrated this one very well, and its intricacies would reveal how they are planning to expand their operations beyond Iraq.

First, Zarqawi had to test if his Iraqi networks were infiltrated by Jordanian intelligence, but clearly the Jordanians had no advanced warning of what was about to hit them. Zarqawi’s other logistical challenge was to smuggle in the explosive devices into Jordan. The land route from Baghdad to Amman is subject to very stringent security checks; as anyone who has recently waited for upwards of five hours at the border can tell you. However, Zarqawi found a way to bypass the regular border crossing and this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with livestock smuggling; if a sheep can surreptitiously make it over the border, then so can a Katyusha rocket.

Zarqawi’s other challenge was choosing the appropriate symbolism associated with his first big regional terrorist act outside of Iraq. And for that, he chose to hew away at the truism that only non-Iraqi suicide bombers are involved in terrorist acts. He chose four Iraqi volunteers to deliver the following message: “our idea of the grand Islamic state does not categorize individuals as Iraqis or Jordanians; all Muslims are part of the Jihad.” His choice of targets was well-tailored for this sort of mentality; while lounging in one of Amman’s hotels, one was more likely to overhear Iraqi officials and foreign contractors — mostly “security professionals” or mercenaries bound or returning from Iraq — than Petra-bound tourists. There was a whole comfort industry that catered to those fleeing or finding respite from the chaos and mayhem of Iraq.

This environment catered to all the whims, including the libidinal. The three hotels that were hit are notorious for their dance hall bars where skimpily clad prostitutes hailing from Russia to Morocco congregate to do business. These bars, as well as the lobby areas, are heavily policed by the Jordanian mukhaberat whose job it is to keep this war-profiteering industry hassle-free and running smoothly.

On July 29, the New YorkTimes featured the story of Zaid Horani, a Jordanian jihadist that had been arrested last March by the local authorities after returning from a stint of fighting along with the terrorists in Iraq. As part of what compelled him to go, his mother volunteered that “He hated the Shiites.” Asharq Al-Awsat is a leading Saudi-owned Arabic language daily that translates and runs stories from the Times. The Horani feature was printed a day later in Arabic but the reference to hating the Shiites was removed.

Why would Zaid Horani, who is 27 years old, develop such hatred towards the Shia while growing up in a country that hardly had any Shias? Why would a Saudi-owned paper excise his mother’s quote? The conditions that bred Zaid Horani and his idol Zarqawi are obscure and multi-layered, but they are still there, and the Jordanian leadership has yet to address why these young Jordanian men came into being in the first place.

Amman has prospered on the plight of others. Most recently, a housing boom was driven by Iraqi cash fleeing the consuming flames of Baghdad. Before that, Jordan reaped the most — by hook or crook — from the blatantly corrupted United Nations Oil-for-Food program, and much of its elite were implicated.The final installment of the Volker Report even alludes to King Abdullah himself, by suggesting that oil coupons were awarded to Ziad Abu Al-Ragheb, identified in the Saddam-era Oil Ministry archives as “Director of Office of the King of Jordan.”That is a title he never held, but he is well-known pal of the reigning monarch. Most of the shady financial transactions went through the Jordan National Bank that is owned and managed by the family of current deputy premier, Marwan Muasher.

Iraqis demonstrating against King Abdullah II being awarded a doctorate degree from Georgetown University in March 2005

The Iraqi political and mercantile class that flanked the Ba’athist dictatorship is taking a long sojourn in Amman, where they are actively welcomed by the authorities; in fact, Saddam’s daughters were personally accompanied to safety by Prince Ali, the King’s half-brother. Furthermore, the king, his government and the state-influenced press have been strongly critical of any political progress in Iraq, and seemingly have played host and cheerleader to those waging the insurgency. Rather than warning of spawning Sunni terror networks, King Abdullah was fretting about a “Shia Cresent” and counseling a delay in the elections of last January.

Amman as a haven was booming, until it went boom. Jordan has weathered some severe regional storms in the past — Arab Nationalism and Palestinian terrorism,as well as Israeli backlash — but this one is different. A native son, Zarqawi, who just turned 39 on October 30, is announcing that he has come back to settle some scores and pat his vanities. He is giving vent to the anger among those who did not get to share the spoils of war by proxy.

So far, the outcry among regular Jordanians has been galvanizing. But it won’t last. Soon enough, the same stark societal contradictions that separated people into places of origin and financial rank will come into play, and the resentments will creep back to lend further fury to Zarqawi’s furnace. King Abdullah has spoken in the last couple of days since the bombings of a recipe for combating terrorism: intelligence sharing among the region’s governments and a press and broadcast campaign. There was no substantive talk of reform in order to seize the momentum of national unity and address long simmering hurts among the disenfranchised.

Jordan needs to take a long look at itself, and it can start doing that by looking at the layers that drove young Zaid Horani to become a jihadist. The Jordanians cannot afford to excise these hard facts from their national consciousness, or else, they risk more of what happened on Wednesday.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com