Two hours after the attack on Baghdad began, Jordan--the nation lying uneasily between Iraq and Israel--was still, its night streets quiet.
Jordan’s state-run radio and television deliberately delayed reporting the opening of the war until 3 a.m., nearly three hours after the first explosions were reported live elsewhere in the world.
There was no immediate statement from King Hussein’s government, nor any obvious sign of increased security in the downtown area of the capital.
Most Jordanians support Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and authorities in Amman reportedly were closely monitoring the public reaction after the first call to prayers in the mosques just before sunrise.
At the American Embassy on Queen Zeid Street, several cars, apparently carrying diplomats, pulled into the garage of the five-story building. The structure was guarded by six armed Jordanian police officers wearing red-and-white kaffiyehs (headdresses). On the street, as was normal, a military vehicle mounted with a .30-caliber machine gun was parked.
The guards ordered foreign television crews and reporters away from the building and across the street. At 3:30 a.m., lights shone through the windows of the embassy offices as the diplomats began work.
Adding to the potential for unrest in the Jordanian capital was today’s scheduled funeral and burial of Abu Iyad, No. 2 leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and one of his top aides, who were killed by a gunman in Tunis on Tuesday along with a PLO security official. The bodies were being flown to Jordan from Tunis.
In the Hotel Jordan Intercontinental, Jordanian employees, several looking shaken by the news, took their posts as reporters filled the lobby to watch reports on a Reuters monitor. The hotel management has provided rooms for the staff since the crisis began.
Through the day Wednesday, with hopes of peace dashed, the nations of the Middle East took concrete steps to gird themselves for battle.
In Baghdad, hours before the United States launched its air assault, the state-run radio issued air-raid instructions, and the streets and markets were nearly deserted.
Although National Assembly Speaker Saddi Mehdi Saleh had said there were no immediate plans to evacuate the city of 4 million, many residents had begun leaving independently for the relative safety of rural villages and towns, and French, Italian and other European diplomats departed Iraq by air and land. American Embassy officials left last week.
President Hussein had nonetheless remained defiant, announcing he was officially taking command of his armed forces, a mere formality for the field marshal-rank leader who has long had an iron grip on his army.
Mohammad Mashat, Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., made a final appeal for peace in London, where he had stopped en route home to Baghdad after being recalled by his government.
“This warmongering has to stop and more time has to be given to a diplomatic solution,” he told reporters.
But in Paris, where the French legislature overwhelmingly approved the use of force against Iraq by French military contingents in the Gulf, Foreign Minister Roland Dumas told the Cabinet, “The diplomatic phase is over.”
Equally convinced war was imminent, Jordan had begun calling up its 100,000-man army reserves on Wednesday and all essential civilian personnel--doctors, civil servants, engineers, technicians and even bakery workers--were officially barred from leaving the country.
Jordan, a key border state sandwiched between Iraq and Israel, had been deploying most of its 74,000-man regular army troops along its border with Israel, in addition to units sent to its border with Iraq. Jordanian defensive units, including 14 U.S.-made antiaircraft missile batteries, had been placed on highest alert.
In markets all over the capital of Amman, street hawkers had been doing brisk business selling rolls of masking tape to prevent flying glass from windows blown out by bomb blasts.
Police and security agencies in Amman were also preparing riot control for today’s scheduled funeral for the two slain PLO leaders.
Saddam Hussein enjoys enormous popularity in Jordan, especially among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in Jordanian camps, and some diplomats said they expected the funeral to turn into a potentially volatile political rally in support of the Iraqi leader.
“The strongest appeal Saddam has here is the frustration over the Palestinian problem,” said one Western diplomat in Amman. “The guy has just managed to push every real button in the Arab psyche.”
But, for Jordan and its leader, King Hussein, the diplomat added, their principal aim is “determination to stay out of a war.”
In other developments:
* Authorities in Ankara, Turkey, said Iraq had sealed and mined its northern border, apparently a hedge against any land invasion by anti-Iraq forces from inside Turkey.
* Throughout Europe, security was tightened at domestic and international airports. British commandos backed by light tanks staged a counterterrorism drill at Heathrow Airport in London in one of the most dramatic displays.
* Several airlines canceled flights in the gulf, among them Iran Air, the national airline of the Islamic Republic, which stopped flights to Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.
* In Tokyo, Japan said it would support the United States in the war effort, but would not send military forces.