Palace Intrigue Besets King Abdullah

Saddam Hussein’s TV address to the Iraqi nation on Thursday, August 9, was replete with seemingly abstruse Islamic references with ominous overtones.

“The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs, to die in disgraceful failure, taking their schemes back with them, or to dig their own graves, after they bring death to themselves on every Arab or Muslim soil against which they perpetrate aggression, including Iraq, the land of Jihad and the banner” – was one passage.

“Allah, the omni-powerful, is above all power and shall repel the schemes of the unjust” – was another.

The warning carried to Amman on Tuesday, August 6, by Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri was just as ominous though less abstruse. Jordanian palace sources described his talks with King Abdullah as dwelling on “the mounting threat of military action against Iraq and ways to prevent it”. However, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Amman and the Gulf, this communique could not have been further from what actually transpired in the exchange.

Sabri handed King Abdullah a letter from Saddam warning him against pursuing his military cooperation with the Americans. The Iraqi minister cautioned the king: “If you let the Americans attack us from Jordanian soil, don’t expect to sleep safely in your bed.”

Sabri issued a similar threat to the Turkish foreign minister Sukru Sina Gurel who was in Amman at the same time. Turkey must withdraw its special forces from northern Iraq and the Turkmen regions without delay, said the Iraqi minister; Ankara must stop the United States from using Turkish bases for attacks on Iraq. Failure to do so would leave Baghdad no option but to “send its own special forces already present in Turkey against strategic Turkish targets, bringing chaos to the cities and inflicting heavy civilian casualties”.

Those same Iraqi special forces units, the Iraqi thundered, would also go after US troops stationed in Turkish bases. Talking to reporters later, the Iraqi foreign minister continued in the same vein, declaring Baghdad will “chop off the head of any aggressor”.

The US offensive against Iraq – and Jordan’s heavy involvement (as revealed in last week’s DEBKA-Net-Weekly) – confronts the Jordanian monarch with a threat not only from Baghdad but also from within. Washington’s plan to replace the Saddam regime with a fresh administration has stirred up enthusiasm among influential Jordanian monarchists for the restoration of the historic House of Hashem in Baghdad, as well as in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in the Saudi region of Hijaz.

The Hashemite dynasty was founded early last century by Al-Hussein bin Ali, the deposed Sharif of Mecca and King of the Hijaz. His two sons, Feisal and Abdullah, established monarchies in Iraq and Jordan. Feisal was deposed and executed by the Iraqi Baath, while the Hashemites retain the Jordanian throne to this day.

Some members of Jordan’s most wealthy and prominent families – many kinsmen of the Hashemite king – believe that restoring the Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad, even symbolically, would bring back the dynasty’s glory days and instate it as a leading Middle East power. They take encouragement from the return of the Afghan king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, from exile to Kabul.

King Abdullah is extremely worried by this movement. He fears that placing Ali Bin Hussein, the London-based heir to the Iraqi branch of the Hashemites, on the throne in Baghdad would undercut his own position as head of the House of Hashem. The center of gravity of the royal house would shift to Baghdad and expose him to rivalries and intrigue. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington report that Abdullah explained this to US President George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, when he visited Washington in late July. He also argued that his quiet military collaboration with the United States against Iraq was for him a perilous venture, exposing him to dangers from unexpected quarters, as well as from Baghdad. He was nonetheless throwing in his lot with Washington – not to give the Jordanian monarchy a new headache, but to rid his country once and for all of the scourge of Saddam Hussein and expunge the historic Palestinian threat to its stability.

Ali Bin Hussein’s presence at the convention of exiled Iraqi army leaders in London last month was taken by Iraqi military chiefs in Baghdad as signifying America’s intention of assigning the Iraqi heir a central position in the post-Saddam administration. Abdullah remarked that the exile had begun using the title “Sharif”, or nobleman, in his public appearances and demanding to be addressed as head of the Hashemite royal house, implying also a territorial claim on Saudi Arabia.

What vexed King Abdullah most of all were the photographs of his uncle, Prince Hassan, in the company of the Iraqi royal claimant at the London convention of Iraqi exiles. Hassan was in line for the Jordanian throne until King Hussein, shortly before his death three years ago, suddenly displaced him with his son Abdullah, leaving Hassan much disgruntled. Abdullah told his American hosts that Hassan had blatantly defied his orders not to attend the convention and consort with Ali Bin Hussein. Hassan had gone even further and invited a group of high-placed Jordanians over to London to meet the Iraqi heir.

Abdullah was so upset that American officials went to considerable trouble to calm one of their key strategic partners in the US campaign against Baghdad. Cheney and Rice explained to the king that the exiled officers’ convention in London was in fact a flop and Washington made no move to meet their demands, one of which was for a Pentagon and State Department commitment to reinstate the exiled officers in their old command positions after Saddam was gone. They also wanted Ali Bin Hussein appointed supreme commander of the Iraqi armed forces.

This did not wash in Washington; US leaders want to sweep away the incumbent military hierarchy and construct a new military whose chain of command would be unassociated with the ousted administration.

The disappointed exiled officers disputed the American plan, arguing that for Saddam to be removed, the Iraqi military establishment must remain the dominant force in the country.

The London convention broke up in discord.

Cheney and Rice assured King Abdullah he had nothing to fear and Ali Bin Hussein would be summoned to Washington to be told not to expect any central role in the post-Saddam government. They also assured Abdullah, as they did the Turkish government, that the future Baghdad regime would be the center of a loose Iraqi federation with little real power.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources. Ali Bin Hussein is due in the US capital this week, as promised.

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