Jordan fears fallout as Iraq crisis worsens

Conflicting reports of capture by armed groups of Karama border crossing heighten security concerns.

Amman – Jordan has intensified its security measures near the Karama border crossing with Iraq, known in Iraq as Tirbeel corssing, amid unconfirmed and conflicting reports that it has been seized by armed groups.

There was growing concern over the rapid territorial gains made of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on the other side of the border.

A security source from Jordan’s armed forces, who asked to be anonymous, told Al Jazeera that they could only confirm from Jordan’s side that security measures were being put in place but “on the other side we cannot confirm who is actually there, as it is a different country”.

However, according to the Reuters news agency, Sunni tribesmen took control of the border crossing after Iraq’s army pulled out of the area following clashes with armed fighters, Iraqi and Jordanian intelligence sources said on Monday.

“Jordan is monitoring the situation in Iraq very closely and the Jordanian army will take necessary measures according to developments,” Mohammad Mumani, the Jordanian government’s spokesperson, said, without confirming or denying reports about the border being seized by any specific groups.

Witnesses reported heavy army presence near the border area, which has been reportedly closed since Sunday. 

“For the past two days, military tanks, rocket launchers, anti-terror groups have been moving towards the Jordanian Iraqi border,” a resident of Rwaished, about 60km away from the border, said on the condition of anonymity.

“There is no war here yet, but the situation is alarming for us.”

Rwaished is inhabited by almost 4,000-5,000 Jordanians.

Political analysts say the geographical expansion and the violent and practices of the ISIL present Jordan with a colossal security challenge.

“We cannot exaggerate nor undermine the danger the ISIL presents to Jordan. Jordan is a part of Bilad Sham, the geographical unit they aim to sieze along with Iraq, Syria and Plaestine,” Iraq, Syria and Palestine,” Amer Sabaileh, an Amman-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

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Jordanians battling economic hardships and limited job opportunities have always praised “the blessing of peace” in their country that survived regional turmoil.

But now, many fear for the fragile stability they have long enjoyed as Iraq’s battles come closer to home.

“We always said thank God for peace although we struggled to feed our children,” said Mohammad Ali, who sells sandwiches on the streets of Abdali in Amman.

President Barack Obama said on Sunday that ISIL is no longer a threat not only to Iraq but also to neighbouring countries including Jordan, a big US ally.

“You know Israel is at the heart of West’s concern and they always protected Jordan for that purpose, so we shall be safe Inshallah,” Saeed Salameh [named changed for protection], a retired school teacher, said.

Jordan is not made of cartoon boxes. It should be able to defend and protect its border against ISIL encroachment.

by - Nedal Mansour, Journalist and activist.

Although Jordan has beefed up its border defense, and still enjoys Western backing, its biggest challenge lies in the support the ISIL has might have among Jordanian Salafis groups.

“Jordan is not made of cartoon boxes. It should be able to defend and protect its border against ISIL encroachment,” Nedal Mansour, a journalist and activist, said.

“But it has to deal with the ISIL that is inside Jordan, [meaning the groups supporting it]. Let’s ask ourselves who were these thousands of Jordanians fighting inside Syria fighting with? It is the ISIL and Nusrah.”

On Friday, a group of Salafists in the southern governorate of Maan celebrated what they called the achievements of the ISIL in Iraq, and raised slogans claiming Maan – a big stronghold for Salafists – as the “Fallujah of Jordan”.

Last week, Jordan released Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, an anti-ISIL Salafist leader, after several years of imprisonment.

Maqdesi, who has described the ISIL as deviant and called for resistance against the group, is due to give a statement soon.

As of today, UNHCR says it has not witnessed an increase in the number of Iraqis crossing to Jordan.

But a sudden influx of Iraqi refugees to Jordan – which is already home to about 600,000 Syrian refugees besides 28,000 Iraqis – is sure to further stretch the country’s limited resources.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies