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Why Jordan refused to join the war on Iraq

by HRH El Hassan Bin Tahal

Crown Prince of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan


This is an article taken from the Guardian, 12/2/1991. The author, Crown Prince Hassan, was at the time, generally assumed to be King Hussein's successor. At the end of his life, King Hussein surprised everyone by instead deciding in favour of his own son, Abdullah. This was almost immediately after his return from receiving medical treatment in the United States. We may imagine that Hassan's eloquent statement of Jordan's position on the war against Iraq may have had something to do with it.

Both Jordan and the Yemen were severely punished for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Kuwaiti crisis. They were punished economically by the United States and there were massive expulsions of Jordanian and Yemeni workers from Saudi Arabia and from Kuwait.

Jordan, of course, has since made amends, admitted its errors, and been allowed back into the 'International Community' (ie the US and its courtiers). Yemen seems to want to do the same but has had more difficulty in trying to persuade the Court of its sincerity. Indeed, not long after the Kuwaiti crisis, there was a Yemeni crisis. Saudi Arabia wanted an oil rich piece of Yemeni territory, marched its troops to the Yemeni border and threatened to invade. The Yemenis, riven by civil war (largely fuelled by the Saudis), could not resist and gave them what they wanted. The similarity to the Iraq/Kuwait crisis was flagrant, but the 'International Community' chose to look the other way.

There is a rather bizarre footnote to this article. Two of the principle ideologues of US policy towards the Muslim world - Richard Perle and Bernard Lewis - have proposed that Crown Prince Hassan, having lost the throne of Jordan, be appointed as King of Iraq.


There is no contradiction between "conscience" and "legitimacy". The flag of Kuwait still flies, as it should, on the Kuwaiti Embassy in Amman. We have repeatedly affirmed our total opposition to the acquisition of territory by force. Jordan has assiduously implemented UN Security Council sanctions against Iraq at a great cost to its own economy. What Jordan did not do was to send its forces to join the coalition and fight in the war. Our critics conveniently forget these facts and many others. Our allegiance to peace does not put us in any camp except in that of peace.

No effort was spared by Jordan to warn about the destruction, both physical and psychological, that war will bring to the region. There are those who did not understand or did not like our message. Jordan was successively demoted by its critics from, initially, an apologist for Iraq, to tilting towards it. Then to moving firmly into Iraq's camp. And finally to having its allegiance to Iraq.

Since August 2, Jordan has consistently worked for a peaceful solution to the Iraq­Kuwait crisis within the framework of international law and UN resolutions. Alas, such contributions were thwarted. As the recent speech of His Majesty [King Hussein] suggested, there is no contradiction between international legitimacy and an Arab contribution to peace. In fact, any regional settlement based on justice has to address all the people concerned.

Throughout the period since the outbreak of the crisis, Jordan's sole allegiance has been to peace. His Majesty King Hussein's latest speech is a cry of conscience. We helplessly see the ineluctable course of events that may very soon visit the horrors of weapons of mass destruction upon the region

"The dignity of truth is lost with too many protestations." His Majesty's speech has been criticised for omitting references to Kuwait. Jordan has repeatedly stressed the need to mobilise all efforts in the search for a diplomatic solution based on international law. The very notion of finding a diplomatic solution based on legitimacy implies an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. This has always been Jordan's official position.

As long as the Iraq-Iran war lasted, President Saddam was seen by the West as the party deserving support. That seems clear in the review of Iraq's relations with the west over the past decade. The United States Human Rights Country Reports are instructive. Up until last year, allegations of human rights violations in Iraq were passed over with bureaucratic skill. Positive developments were highlighted, eg the rights of minorities and the rights of women and secularism.

At the UN, meanwhile, Iraq was shielded from exposure to the rigours of the organisation's charter. Early resolutions on the Iraq-Iran war were classics in equivocation and abandonment of principles. Restoration of the status quo ante and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, so prominent as justification for the collective punishment currently being inflicted on the Iraqi people, were not even mentioned at that stage.

The use of chemical weapons in that war was documented as far back as 1983. Yet no meaningful condemnation was made by the Security Council or any human rights group within the UN system. It was only after the Iraq-Iran ceasefire came into place, a period in which chemical weapons were not used, that President Saddam's image as a ruthless ruler who will not hesitate to use chemical weapons was being carefully nurtured.

Iraq received extensive economic support from the world community during its war with Iran. By the end of the war, credits to Iraq are reported to have reached $80 billion, provided mainly from the West and from Arab oil countries.

Jordan is not an apologist for any, but there are certain pertinent facts about the Iraq­Kuwait dispute that have to remembered:

· Historically there have been no fewer than 22 active border disputes in the Gulf region since 1900, and no fewer than 21 in which redress was sought by military force.

· While Kuwait's membership of the Community of Nations as an independent and sovereign state is beyond dispute, it cannot be said that Iraqi territorial claims on some Kuwaiti territory are not without foundation. These claims predate President Saddam, and it is a fact that he had taken more steps to finalise border delimitations than any of his predecessors.

· There is no doubt that Iraq's complaints about Kuwaiti overproduction of oil were genuine and bitterly felt. Evidence that the Kuwaitis were overproducing in violation of existing OPEC agreements is incontestable. It is equally incontestable that the catastrophic effects of such overproduction on Iraq's economy ­ and ultimately on the very integrity of the state ­ could not have escaped the notice of the Kuwaiti authorities. Did greed prevail over good sense, or was there an international attempt to weaken Iraq? If the latter is the case, as the evidence suggests, would it be too inappropriate to speak of economic aggression, a notion which in our interdependent world can be as destabilising as armed aggression?

On the occasions on which President Saddam was approached directly without intimidation, he always complied. He promised His Majesty King Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait immediately after the Iraqi invasion. That solution would have prevented a local dispute from becoming an international crisis. But it was undercut by Arab League and Security Council condemnation of Iraq. That marked the beginning of the escalation.

No one can say with a clear conscience that peaceful means were exhausted. In the course of almost six months of crisis characterised by name calling, military preparations and escalation of demands (for example Mrs Thatcher's "Sanctions will not be lifted even if Iraq withdraws") there was only one direct meeting between the USA and Iraq ­ on January 9, 1991. By then, it was too late. The logic of war had taken on a life of its own and the meeting was meant for different audiences, Congress on the one hand and the Arab masses on the other. No genuine negotiations.

Despite this, the Iraqis never completely locked the door against a peaceful solution. Thus for example, in his January 13 meeting with the UN Secretary General, President Saddam suggested that Iraq would be ready to "cooperate" if there is a comprehensive application of international legality.

Jordan, although contiguous to Iraq, did not evolve significant economic relations with Iraq until the 1980s. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been the main regional economic partners of Jordan. Both countries absorbed the larger part of Jordanian migrant labour, and provided the main markets for Jordanian agricultural exports.

Significant economic linkages between Jordan and Iraq were in fact a by-product of the Iran­Iraq war. They began when Basra, Iraq's only outlet to the sea, was closed, forcing the Iraqis to seek alternative ports for the huge supplies needed to sustain the war. Syria denied Iraq the use of its Mediterranean ports which would have provided a second best to Basra, and closed Iraq's only oil pipeline. In the event, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia began pumping oil on Iraq's behalf, providing Iraq with credit to prevent an Iranian takeover of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, Jordan's port of Aqaba became one of two main substitutes for Basra (Kuwait being the other). Road tankers were used to carry Iraqi crude across the desert from Iraq for re-exportation through Aqaba. Jordan additionally provided a variety of supplies to Iraq on a credit basis. All these factors led to a sharp increase in the volume of trade between Iraq and Jordan which was negligible prior to the Iraq-lran war. As the war progressed and Iraq could not meet its repayment obligations to Jordan, it offered oil in return. Jordan, which was hard-pressed for foreign exchange, consequently took Iraqi crude in repayment of Iraqi debts.

But Jordan switched back to Saudi crude after the eruption of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis in August 1990. Imports through the Tapline shot up to $22 million during September 1990. But its closure by the Saudi authorities forced Jordan to rely once again on imports from Iraq. The Sanctions Committee of the Security Council realised that Jordan had no other viable alternative.

Sanctions, imposed by the Security Council, severely disrupted economic linkages between Jordan and Iraq. Though those ties were triggered by the Iraq-Iran war, they were based on a natural but long-forgotten pattern of complementarities. Through Jordan, Iraq can have access to the Red Sea. Jordan's rapidly expanding agricultural and manufacturing sectors have in Iraq a sizeable and nearby market of about 17 million people. Iraq is a major oil exporter whereas Jordan relies on oil imports. Jordanian contracting firms have a competitive edge in a market as close as Iraq. Investment programmes in Iraq provide attractive job opportunities for Jordanian surplus labour.

Despite the disruption caused by the sanctions, Jordan-Iraq economic complementarities may be swiftly revitalised in a post-war scenario. This central spine of the Arab East, with its human and natural resources, can become a major driving force in the reconstruction of the entire region.

The current tragedy unfolding in the Middle East has not stopped us in Jordan from having a vision of peace and prosperity based on law and justice. During the 43 years of the Arab­Israeli conflict, we similarly never did lose hope.