Jordan's King Abd Allah II ordered the immediate return of Amman's top diplomat to Iraq to ease tensions between the two countries, Jordanian Prime Minister Faisal al-Fayiz said late on Monday evening.

Iraq and Jordan had in recent days engaged in a tit-for-tat withdrawal of ambassadors in a growing dispute over Shia Muslim claims that Jordan was failing to block fighters from entering Iraq.

Sunday's diplomatic row erupted as a Jordanian court sentenced in absentia Iraq's most feared fighter who was born in Jordan - to a 15-year prison term.

As news emerged of the largely symbolic sentencing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose whereabouts are unknown, his al-Qaida-linked organisation in Iraq claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed a top anti-corruption official in the northern city of Mosul.

Al-Zarqawi already has been sentenced to death twice by Jordan.

Sunday's events capped a week of rising tensions that included a protest in which Shia demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad and claims by the Shia clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance that Jordan was allowing fighters to slip into Iraq.

"Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened. We decided, as the Iraqi government, to recall the Iraqi ambassador from Amman to discuss this," Foreign Minister Hushyar Zibari said.

Protecting the embassy

Jordan acted first, when Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi announced his charge d'affaires in Baghdad had been recalled to Amman.

"We are hoping that the Iraqi police will devise a plan to protect the embassy," al-Mulqi said. "Meanwhile, we have asked the charge d'affaires to come back because he was living in the embassy."

The United States has issued a
$25 million reward for al-Zarqawi

He added that other Jordanian diplomats would remain in Baghdad because they did not live in the embassy compound.

Both countries said the officials were being recalled for "consultations", leaving open the possibility for their return.

Shia began holding protests after the Iraqi government on Monday condemned celebrations allegedly held by the family of a Jordanian man suspected of carrying out a 28 February attack that killed 125 people in al-Hilla, 100km south of Baghdad. Nearly all the victims were Shia police and army recruits.

The Jordanian daily Al-Ghad reported that Raid Mansur al-Banna carried out the attack, the single deadliest of the anti-US, anti-interim Iraqi government movement so far.

The newspaper later issued a correction, however, saying it was not known where al-Banna carried out an assault.

Denial

Al-Banna's family has denied his involvement in the attack in al-Hilla, saying he carried out a different bombing in Iraq, and al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for al-Hilla's bombing.

A military court sentenced al-Zarqawi to 15 years in jail and imprisoned an associate for three years for planning an attack on the Jordanian embassy, the offices of the Jordanian military attache and unspecified American targets, all in Iraq.

The two Jordanians allegedly met in Iraq in November 2003 to plan an assault on the embassy after an August bombing of the same building killed 18 people. Al-Zarqawi has also been accused in the August attack.

The United States has issued a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi, who was previously sentenced to death twice in Jordan - once for the 28 October 2002 killing of US diplomat Laurence Foley, and again for planning to attack US and Israeli targets during 1999 New Year's celebrations in the kingdom.

Internal strains reflected

Speaking to Aljazeera, Salman al-Jumaili, professor of political sciences at Baghdad University, said if the Jordanian government was held responsible for its citizens' actions abroad it would be responsible also for other operations carried out in Iraq.

"What matters is not the legal responsibility. The problem lies in the internal situation which has to be cleared up popularly and politically," he said.

"Iraq's interests overlap with Jordan's, particularly in the economic field. Therefore, I do not believe Jordanian-Iraqi relations may be halted or affected by this matter"

Salman al-Jumaili, 
political science professor,
Baghdad University

"The al-Hilla operation, which has killed more than 100 Iraqi citizens, has caused a state of resentment among Iraqis.

"Some political forces have used the report published by a Jordanian newspaper about al-Hilla as an opportunity to express their resentment and call for protests against the Jordanian government."

He went on to say that Iraq was in political crisis over the formation of the government.

With regard to the latest sentence issued by the Jordanian court, al-Jumaili said he did not believe it would positively affect the situation in Iraq.

"Relations between countries are usually mobilised by interests rather than popular stances," he said.

"Iraq's interests overlap with Jordan's, particularly in the economic field. Therefore, I do not believe Jordanian-Iraqi relations may be halted or affected by this matter. I believe the case is a matter of internal resentment rather than a crisis in relations."