Officials in Amman say the trend is not surprising, since many of the 200,000 Iraqis who fled to Jordan over the winter would rather remain than return to occupied Iraq.

Hafteh Sahwil, a real estate agent in Amman’s wealthy Abdoun district, said he currently had 25 Iraqi clients looking to buy three to four storey villas that cost up to 600,000 dinars ($900,000) each.

“Some of my clients are from Iraq but others came from London and want to settle down with their families in an Arab country,” said Sahwil.

In the first six months of 2003, Iraqis bought 70 luxury villas, according to official figures.

Their closest rivals were wealthy Kuwaitis, who bought 56, followed by Syrians, 30, Saudis, 29 and Palestinians, 21.

Iraqis have also been encouraged by Jordan’s decision not to oblige them to go back to their country, in view of the occupation.

Muhammad al-Bashiddy, head of a real estate company, said Iraqis themselves were gaining a foothold in the property market and investing in development projects.

Trade partners

In early May, Amman announced measures to facilitate the entry on its soil of Iraqi businesspeople in an effort to help resume strong trade ties interrupted by the US war.

More recently it has been studying plans to set up a free trade zone near the Iraqi border to help Arab and international traders as well as humanitarian agencies move goods into Iraq.

Before the war, Amman was Baghdad’s main trading partner with 20 percent of all Jordan’s exports in 2002 going to Iraq, while Jordan obtained 15.4% of all its imports from Baghdad, according to trade and industry ministry figures.

Jordan also depended on Iraq for all its oil supplies.