AMMAN, Jordan, March 21 (UPI) -- An unintended coalition of U.S. air power and Baghdad taxi drivers kept a potential flood of Iraqi refugees away from the Jordanian border Friday. The U.N. refugee agency and the Jordanian government were expecting a quarter of million people to stream across the border. Jordan is already home for 400,000 Iraqi refugees from the first Gulf War.
U.S. fighter bombers took out the only gas station between Baghdad and the border, a distance of 600 kilometers. The one-camel village of Ramadi was also the only phone booth on the desert road and a Jordanian was killed by the explosion of the gas station while making a call to his parents in Amman to let them know he was on his way home.
At the same time, the few taxi drivers in Baghdad willing to run the risk of making it to the Jordanian border are charging $1,500 per passenger. Very few Iraqis can afford the fare. As a result, only some 300 TCNs (Third Country Nationals) reached the border post since the bombing started. They were mostly Sudanese and Egyptians. There were no Iraqis among them. They had to hump their luggage 1.8 miles across no-man's-land on foot to Al Karama, the first Jordanian outpost. From there, they were bused to the tent city at the Ruwaished refugee camp, 36 miles inside Jordan.
The Sudanese and Egyptian governments agreed to pay for Jordanian Airlines charters to fly their nationals home.
A group of American anti-war demonstrators who came to Iraq with Japanese human shield volunteers made it across the border today with 14 hours of uncensored video, all shot without Iraqi government minders present. Kenneth Joseph, a young American pastor with the Assyrian Church of the East, told UPI the trip "had shocked me back to reality." Some of the Iraqis he interviewed on camera "told me they would commit suicide if American bombing didn't start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam's bloody tyranny. They convinced me that Saddam was a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler. He and his sons are sick sadists. Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill, such as people put in a huge shredder for plastic products, feet first so they could hear their screams as bodies got chewed up from foot to head."
Iran informed the UN refugee agency Friday that it now has 3,000 Iraqi refugees. Syria said its numbers were "insignificant." The picture could change for the worse as the United States steps up the bombing of Baghdad with a "shock and awe" campaign designed to stun and collapse what's left of the regime. Acute food shortages are expected before U.S. troops liberate Baghdad. U.N. officials in the Iraqi capital radioed today that some 500 disadvantaged children were suffering from malnutrition and they were rounding whatever supplies they could find.
Prior to the war, some 700 tanker trucks shuttled daily between both countries. Jordan consumes 12,000 tons of oil a day. All of it comes from Iraq at discounted prices under the U.N. oil-for-food program. Some 2,600 and 1,500 Iraqi tankers have been involved in the overland oil traffic. Movement was down to 140 tankers the day before the bombing started. It stopped abruptly two days ago.
Jordan had made plans for a quick switch to tankers anchored off Aqaba. Qatar had pledged to replace whatever shortfall Jordan experienced.
Jordanians see a good omen in the daily arrival of almost 1,000 white storks. They alight near the Safeway on one of Amman's seven hills, a pit stop on their way from Africa to their east European breeding grounds. About 100,000 storks are expected at the Safeway for the next month, numbers not seen in 10 years, and a sign of ample rain and a good harvest.
The official and private views of some ranking Jordanian officials appear to be diametrically opposed. Officially, they condemn the war and say they are "deeply troubled" about the repercussions of the war on the region, and describe the situation as "critical."
Privately, and not for attribution, they say the United States is developing a new opportunity for the Middle East. Said one former prime minister, "If the U.S. can get a new Iraq to recognize Israel as a quid pro quo for a final Palestinian settlement, others will fall into place -- Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states. Iran would then have to pull back its military support for Hezbollah."
Another prominent Jordanian voice said that while Iraq has created a rift between America and its allies, and in Europe itself, the Palestine question -- provided President Bush is serious about a settlement roadmap, without either side allowed to nickel and dime it to oblivion -- could be a reconciling factor. Which all sides now need." The official consensus is that the United States can win wars on its own. But it cannot win the peace. A former foreign minister said, "I can only hope that the $10 billion the U.S. now plans to provide Israel will have a geopolitical price tag."