Iraqis Find Travel to Jordan Increasingly Frustrating
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
AMMAN, Jordan -- Jordanian border police are turning away hundreds of Iraqi vehicles daily at the Karama border crossing, often without explanation, creating huge parking lots of frustrated travelers in the Iraqi desert. At Queen Alia International Airport, just south of Jordan's capital, Amman, Iraqi passengers are ushered into a room and interrogated before being allowed to enter the country. And some Iraqis who used to be able to get 30-day visas to Jordan are now being allowed to stay just a few days at a time.
The security restrictions being applied to Iraqis stem from the bombings of three Amman hotels on Nov. 9. The attacks -- which killed 59 people, most of them Jordanians -- were carried out by three Iraqi suicide bombers; a fourth Iraqi's explosive belt failed to detonate. Jordanian security officials say the extra measures are necessary to keep out would-be terrorists.
Jordan's government spokesman, Nasir Judah, confirmed that the country had imposed new border restrictions on Jan. 2 that prohibit vehicles with Iraqi license plates from entering the country. As a result, Iraqi commercial drivers are effectively prevented from taking passengers to and from Jordan, and private vehicles with Iraq's signature black license plates are stopped at the border. The only Iraqi vehicles allowed into Jordan are those with white license plates, which can be obtained only after the owner puts funds into a trust equal to the value of the car.
"It's only routine measures . . . but because of the circumstances we have to be cautious and take all the essential measures," Judah said.
But some Iraqi citizens say they feel as if they are being profiled -- suspected of wrongdoing simply because of their nationality. Their complaints echoed those of Arabs in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
On Highway 35 between Amman and the northern city of Irbid recently, a police officer stopped a white rental car to question three female passengers: an Iraqi and two Americans, one of whom was of Arab descent. After examining the Iraqi's passport, the officer returned it and apologized, explaining that police had special orders to scrutinize the travel documents of female Iraqi travelers since the announcement that the surviving Amman hotel attacker was an Iraqi woman.
In a parking lot in Amman where Iraqi drivers assemble with their passenger vans, a group of men with tired faces surrounded a reporter and interpreter, demanding to be heard.
"We are suffering, sister," said Abu Khalid, 48. Like the other drivers, he declined to give his full name for fear of retaliation by the Jordanian government. The drivers said they were particularly singled out at the border because their passports were filled with entry and exit stamps. "What have we done wrong?" Abu Khalid asked.
The men said the 500-mile trip from Baghdad to Amman used to take between eight and 10 hours. Now they are stuck at the border for three or four days, which not only is a huge inconvenience to their passengers, but also makes them targets for looters and insurgents. The delays, drivers say, are costing them business.
"We are with the Jordanians against terrorism," said Abu Mustafah, 37. "We feel sorry for them."
Abu Hussein, 32, said he recently drove a delegation of Iraqi university professors to Jordan so they could fly to Germany for a conference. Even though they had official travel documents, the delegation was turned back for the night. "One of the women with them got dizzy," he said. "She had to go to the bathroom. She went in an abandoned area. There's no comfort in Iraq, and now there's no comfort in Jordan. Where should we go?"
Waiting for a ride back to Baghdad, Iqbal Shawk, 35, stretched her legs out of the door of a passenger van. Shawk said she came to Amman regularly for medical treatment for her eyes. Her Iraqi doctor fled the violence in Baghdad, and now she must follow him here to Jordan, she said.