I spent some time in Jordan lately and, wherever you go in Amman these days, the only topic of conversation is the “Islamic State”, writes Abdel Bari Atwan.
In restaurants, in newspaper offices, at ministerial conferences, even in taxis, all people want to talk about is Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s “Caliphate” and what the West – led by President Barack Obama – will do about it.
Will they manage to keep their regional supremacy; will they manage to eliminate the Islamic State?
Jordan is in a state of high anxiety, even panic, about the Islamic State; people are worried about sleeper cells inside the kingdom and about the role that its forces might play in any international military intervention – whether covert or overt.
During my stay in Amman, I met a lot of people from all walks of life – top government officials, media professionals, intellectuals, activists, and ordinary citizens. All I heard about was the Islamic State.
Opinion was very much divided and I sensed a split against the phenomenon and how to deal with it but everyone seemed alert to the sheer size of the force, and the fact that is able to transcend national borders.
The question on everyone’s lips is, where will its expansionism end?
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People in Jordan were transfixed by the NATO summit held in London last Thursday and Friday, which, even though it was not on the official agenda lent much of its focus to the Islamic State.
From the summit an international “coalition of willing”, 10 countries emerged. This included Turkey, and was along the lines of the international coalition, founded in 1990 to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait and followed by joint action in 2003 for Iraq’s invasion and occupation.
Equally fascinating was the fact that President Obama held two closed meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The first at the NATO meeting – Turkey being a member, Jordan not being a member – and the second at a “by invitation only” meeting which excluded other Arab leaders.
That the Jordanian monarch met with Obama had great resonance in Jordan; now people started to wonder of Jordan would be involved in a new international regional alliance to counteract the latest developments, including the Islamic State of Iraq. Would Jordan be required to add troops to an international force established to combat the Islamic State?
Chat forums and bulletin boards are full of speculation. Leaks and rumours have prompted some newspapers to publish a front-page headlines saying that Jordan will not participate in the war against the Islamic State, mainly because public opinion strongly opposes it but also because a memorandum against was signed by 20 members of the Jordanian House of representatives (Parliament).
They showed how Facebook posts by Islamic State often garner more than 50,000 “likes” within hours of posting.
The Jordanian Government was quick to issue a statement through the responsible Minister, Mr. Moumani; it made it clear that it had not yet agreed to join the coalition of 10 countries announced by President Obama. They did not say that they would not join the regional alliance, if so requested, but so far they have received no request.
John Kerry tour
A US delegation, featuring both John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is certainly touring the region today. Hegel is to submit a request for participation in military action against the Islamic State from all the Arabic countries he will visit, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and UAE and Qatar.
When President Obama goes to Congress with the details of his strategy for the Elimination of the “Islamic State”, this means he wants financial, as well as political and moral, support for an imminent Declaration of war ; congressional approval is the last stage needed to engage in a new war in the Middle East.
Jordanian authorities avoid talking about the Islamic State but national clerics have taken against it, including Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Sheikh Omar Abu Qatada. The latter has been accused of being “openly xenophobic to the Islamic State and for questioning its legitimacy and the legitimacy of the succession.”
Information circulating in the streets of Jordan says security forces have arrested more than 150 youths belonging to, or sympathizing with, the thoughts of “Islamic State” and its ideology, and that they are closely watching every young person as any might be recruited into their ranks and sleeper cells.
When I told a Jordanian official who was in denial about the strength and significance of the Islamic State that it is rather different in its approach, practices and mechanisms than old-style Al-Qaeda he raised his eyebrows. Yet the Islamic State has 75,000 trained and well armed fighters. These will no be lightly dissuaded from their immediate task.
I would also like to comment on the overt public support for the Islamic State, particularly among the young who have been hoisting its flag in the streets of some cities.
The West does not have a good track record of confronting extremist Islamist groups – only look at Afghanistan and Iraq – why do they think a military intervention will succeed now when the enemy is stronger, more numerous, better trained and more determined than ever?