Jordanians celebrate country’s 74th Independence Day in confident mood

Jordanian troops ride their military vehicles holding a picture of Jordan's King Abdullah during a parade at a ceremony to celebrate the country's 74th Independence Day in Amman. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 May 2020

Jordanians celebrate country’s 74th Independence Day in confident mood

  • The festivities followed a three-day lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the killer virus in the country

AMMAN: Jordanians on Monday took to the streets to celebrate their country’s 74th Independence Day amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

The festivities followed a three-day lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the killer virus in the country, which has so far recorded 708 cases and nine deaths.

Jordan’s population of almost 10 million people, the majority of them in their youth and belonging to different backgrounds and ethnicities which pride themselves on peaceful coexistence, woke up to national flags fluttering throughout the nation as well as on the Google search home page.

The COVID-19 pandemic has instilled a sense of nationalism and unity as well as confidence in the country’s leadership that has not been felt in years.

Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Mothanna Gharaibeh told Arab News that the virus outbreak had helped to boost Jordan’s digital resilience. “During the crisis, internet traffic grew by 70 percent overnight and yet our resilient internet network was able to take it without any reduction on YouTube or Netflix quality.”

Gharaibeh, the youngest minister in Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government, said that the private and public sectors had been working together during the COVID-19 emergency to overcome many challenges.

“From security to food delivery and online learning, thousands of Jordanians who were serving global customers continued to deliver quality services from their homes,” he added.

The minister, who was an activist during the short-lived Jordanian spring in 2011, pointed out that despite the economic difficulties caused by the lockdown there had been some positives to emerge from the situation.

“We grew by 700-plus jobs in the last two months by top companies like Cisco, Webhelp, BIGO/IMO, and others relying on the Jordanian solid infrastructure, skills, and work ethics,” he said.

Mahmoud Zawahreh, a young political activist from the city of Zarqa, told Arab News that Jordan was battling on two fronts. “The struggle is against different challenges in dealing with the coronavirus as well as the external political challenges.

“Jordan is being forced to escalate its response due to the dangers from the Israeli intentions to annex Palestinian territories while at the same time it has to deal with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Maamoun Abu Nawwar, a retired two-star air force general, said the people and leaders of Jordan had succeeded in finding a common ground as a nation. “There is a successful trilateral cooperation between the leadership, the army and the people.

“There is a close-knit atmosphere that has been recently articulated with many Jordanians returning from abroad because of the pandemic and realizing how great their country is and that it takes care of its people.”

He added that Jordan faced a difficult future and that some of its challenges were “existential” and required a holistic approach. “Jordan needs to be more inclusive to all regional neighbors to seek their help and protection from Israel.”

He believes that some of its neighbors have not risen to the challenges facing the country. “There is bitterness in Jordan regarding how much it can count on regional powers to stand with it. At times Jordan feels like it has to stand alone because it refuses to take sides in regional disputes,” Abu Nawwar said.

Tareq Khoury, the former head of the Wehdat Football Club and now a member of parliament representing Zarqa, told Arab News that independence required hard decisions including the cancellation of the Wadi Araba Treaty (Jordan-Israel peace accord).

“Independence requires fighting with the occupying enemy who is targeting our holy places and the Jordan Valley,” he said.

Khoury, a businessman who trades with regional countries, said that a much more robust economic relationship was needed.

Samar Nassar, the first female secretary-general of the Jordanian Football Association, said Jordan had been a sports pioneer in the region, championing women empowerment, and using sports for social change.

“We hosted the FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup, which was the first international tournament of its scale in the Arab world and we hosted the 2018 women’s Asian Cup final.”

US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

Updated 11 min 29 sec ago

US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

  • Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis
  • McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government

WASHINGTON: Six months after a deadly American airstrike in Baghdad enraged Iraqis and fueled demands to send all US troops home, the top US general for the Middle East is talking optimistically about keeping a smaller but enduring military presence there.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, met Tuesday with Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and said afterward that he believes the Iraqis welcome the US and coalition troops, especially in the ongoing fight to keep Daesh militants from taking hold of the country again.
“I believe that going forward, they’re going to want us to be with them,” McKenzie told a small group of reporters, speaking by phone hours after he left Iraq. “I don’t sense there’s a mood right now for us to depart precipitously. And I’m pretty confident of that.”
Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. Angry Iraqi lawmakers, spurred on by Shiite political factions, passed a nonbinding resolution to oust all US-led coalition forces from the country.
In response to the Soleimani killing, Iran on Jan. 8 launched a massive ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in Iraq, which resulted in traumatic brain injuries to more than 100 American troops. Two months later, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.
President Donald Trump has vowed to bring troops home and halt what he calls America’s endless wars. But he has also warned Iran to expect a bold US response if Iranian-backed militias attack Americans in Iraq.
The US invaded Iraq in 2003, but troops left in 2011. American forces returned to Iraq in 2014, after Daesh began taking over large swaths of the country,
McKenzie last visited Iraq in early February, slipping into the country for a few hours to meet with leaders as anti-American sentiment was soaring and violent protests and rocket attacks were pummeling the American Embassy.
Relations, however, have improved since Al-Kadhimi took over in May. And while some groups, such as parliament’s Iran-backed Fatah bloc, continue to call for the withdrawal of US forces, there is an emerging dialog between the US and Iraq on the future relationship between the two nations.
McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government and maintain relations with both the US and Iran.
The US has criticized Iraq’s government for being unable to rein in the Iran-backed militia groups it believes are orchestrating the attacks. And Al-Kadhimi has pledged to protect American troops and installations from attacks.
“I think he’s negotiating a land mine now. I think we need to help him,” McKenzie said. “He’s in a very difficult position.”
McKenzie said he hopes the US-Iraq meeting slated for this month will be face-to-face but knows the coronavirus pandemic could affect that. The talks are expected to run the gamut of their bilateral relations, with Washington prioritizing future force levels in Iraq and the ongoing militia attacks, and Baghdad focusing more on its dire economic crisis.
“Certainly we need some foreign presence in Iraq,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know that it needs to be as big as it is now, because ultimately that’s going to be a political, not a military, decision. But I think the Iraqis know, welcome and value what we do for them now.”
There are between 5,000 and 6,000 US troops in Iraq.
McKenzie would not say how many US troops might stay. But he said Iraqi conventional forces now operate on their own. US and coalition forces continue to conduct training and counterterrorism operations, including with Iraqi commandos. Any final decisions, he said, would be coordinated with the Iraqi government.
He said that as Iraqi troops grow more competent, fewer coalition forces would be needed.