Complex Suspect Matrix

Posted: Aug 12, 2003 12:00 AM

The bomb blast outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad sent an unmistakable message to the moderate Arab state: Don’t support the U.S. or a free Iraq.

  While the media is quick to point to contempt in the Arab world for the new, U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Jordan has been quietly supportive of the transitional authority that represents the closest thing to representative governance the people of Iraq have ever experienced.  Jordan’s post-war support has been much more important than its 11th-hour backing of the war—in part because it has a history of standing arm-in-arm with pro-Western Iraqi opposition forces.

  Because Jordan has been a strong U.S. partner in the War on Terror—including the war in Iraq—and has a history supporting the pro-democracy forces in Iraq, there are many possibilities that investigators will have to sift through.  Al Qaeda, Saddam loyalists, and even Syrian/Iranian agents all figure into the suspect matrix.

  The most obvious suspect to consider is the network fronted by Osama bin Laden.  Jordan has become one of al Qaeda’s worst enemies in the Arab world with the helping hand it has provided U.S. and western intelligence agencies, so hitting Jordan would prove tempting.  And given that Iraq has become a shooting gallery, al Qaeda may have spotted an irresistible target in the embassy in Baghdad. 

  With U.S. troops busy securing a myriad of sites in and around the notorious “triangle”—the Sunni Arab area in the center of the country where most of the gun battles are raging—the Jordanian embassy was, in relative terms, about as protected as a movie theater.  A car bomb is not necessarily an al Qaeda trademark, but sending a message clearly is.

  If the bombing is not al Qaeda’s handiwork, it could be that Saddam loyalists took a break from shooting U.S. soldiers to kill Jordanians for a change.  Despite Jordan’s waffling on the eve of the war, the Hashemite monarchy there had supported the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress even when the United States turned its back on the group back in the mid-1990’s. 

  To regime loyalists still fighting in the name of the deposed despot, Jordan’s past actions are likely unforgivable.  But that Jordan supports the new Iraqi Governing Council—which threatens to make permanent the freedom the Iraqi people are now starting to enjoy—probably earns the Arab state a place next to America on the Saddam loyalists’ “enemies list.”

  But given the almost single-minded focus of hardcore Baathists on killing U.S. troops to this point, the embassy bombing might be too much of a departure.  And the gut reaction of some experts is that the attack has the feel of al Qaeda.  Notes Iraq specialist and Brookings Institute scholar Ken Pollock, “Based on no independent evidence, I think it’s probably 60-40 that this is the work of al Qaeda rather than regime loyalists.”

  But one other set of possibilities must be examined.  Iran and Syria are both suspected of getting their hands dirty in the ongoing fighting in central Iraq.  Each nation has enormous contempt for Jordan, not the least because the moderate state long ago made a real, lasting peace with Israel.  Back in the mid-1990’s, both Syria and Iran chose to support the fundamentalist Shi’ite Iraqi opposition groups, not the pro-Western organizations allied with Jordan.  Granted, it’s hard to imagine that either country would be so stupid as to back an open attack on a neighboring Arab nation, but then again, neither Iran nor Syria is up to any good in Iraq.

  Regardless of its role in the embassy bombing, though, Syria is certainly going to command an even greater share of U.S. attention as long as thugs and terrorists keep getting a free pass across the Syrian border into Iraq.  With a heavily patrolled border, almost no one gets into Iraq without Syria’s knowledge—or permission. 

  Syria might be rolling out the red carpet to promote instability in Iraq—an outcome most Arab governments, not to mention al Qaeda, would love.  A free and democratic Iraq can only represent one thing: draining the swamp of tyranny and terrorism that is the Middle East.  Jordan deserves our gratitude for being a swamp-drainer and not part of the swamp.