The war next door.

Author:McDonald, Ingrid

Letter From Amman


Last November, after Iraqi suicide bombers killed 60 people in three Western hotels in Amman, Jordan, a survivor--the groom in a wedding being held in the Radisson ballroom--told a television reporter, "This is not Islam." Indeed, until that evening, Jordan's capital city was best known to the world as a safe haven wedged between Iraq and the West Bank.

Tightly bound by family and tribal networks, Amman feels much smaller than it is. Everyone here seems to have known one or more of the bombing victims, and, in the days that followed, newly printed pictures of King Abdullah II appeared on storefront windows and drivers adorned their cars with Jordanian flags.

The bombs complicate an already growing resentment against the large population of Iraqis who have relocated here in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Amman has become a booming hub for Iraqi reconstruction and the new home of the Iraqi business elite--so much so that Jordanians complain that the new wealth is inflating prices and increasing their cost of living. Meanwhile, shadowed by the trappings of affluence, war-weary Iraqi migrants who arrive with next to nothing scurry to make a meager living. In Deir Al Ghobar, the neighborhood where I have lived with my family for nearly three years, I see many signs of the new arrivals from Iraq, both rich and poor.

The new wealth is obvious. Vacant lots where sheep grazed when we first arrived from the United States have been filled with presumptuous-looking white stone apartment houses and fancy villas. Pounding jackhammers and churning cement mixers produce a constant din. On my early morning walks, I see Egyptian domestic workers in rubber boots washing expensive automobiles, cars ever more frequently marked with Iraqi plates.

Around the corner from my house, I pass the Australian Embassy, a converted apartment house surrounded by large concrete barriers poorly disguised as flower pots and guarded by bored policemen carrying AK-47s. Here I see the other new face of Amman in a regular gathering of Iraqi women in long black abayas. They stand patiently alongside their weathered-looking men, waiting to inquire about visas.

In the fall of 2003, when my husband and I decided to move to Amman with our two-year-old son, I was unsure what to expect. The opportunity to fulfill our long-held dream of living overseas and the chance for my husband to apply his telecommunications expertise to Jordan's economic liberalization efforts outweighed our doubts and fears about the region's political instability and impending war.

That winter, not long after we arrived, the buildup to war moved into high gear. Huddled around the TV in a rented house that didn't yet feel like home, we watched Secretary of State Colin Powell make the case for war to the United Nations and the world. Life in Jordan went on hold. People voiced fears of a spike in gas prices, economic decline, and a flood of refugees. Jordanians delayed personal and business decisions. One cab driver told me he wished the United States would just "get it over with."

Today, while sorting out how to compensate for the loss of cheap oil from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Jordanian government is simultaneously dealing with the economic effects of being Iraq's new gateway. In 2004, the Jordanian economy registered more than 7 percent growth, the greatest in 12 years, thanks in part to growing Iraqi investments.

And, despite the recent bombings, Amman remains the stopover of choice for those doing business in Iraq. The war-torn country's reconstruction money flows through the cash registers of the expensive hotels and trendy restaurants where well-paid American contractors, private-security muscle men, and government officials rest on their way to or from Baghdad. At Cozmo, the modern, Western-style grocery store where I sometimes shop, the aisles are clogged with Americans, Brits, and Europeans. Many are...

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