More than 3,000 American servicemen began arriving Tuesday for military exercises, and the United States renewed a pledge to defend Jordan if it’s threatened by Iraq for harboring Iraqi defectors.
Tensions in the region have escalated since last week’s defection to Jordan of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel alMajid, the head of Iraq’s weapons program and a son-in-law of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Also among the defectors was his wife, another of Saddam’s daughters and her husband, and a group of army officers.
Since the defection, there have been unverified reports of a crackdown in Baghdad and of violent friction between Saddam and his inlaws, who have a history of feuds.
In the latest such report, the Iraqi opposition group Patriotic Union of Kurdistan alleged that Saddam’s son Odai shot and killed Saddam’s half-brother, Wathban Ibrahim, his wife and one of their sons on Aug. 8. In Iraq, the Babel newspaper, which is run by Odai, reported last week that Wathban had suffered a gunshot wound, but did not name the attacker.
Iraq has not made any threats against Jordan for granting asylum to the defectors, but the unpredictable nature of the Iraqi leader has left Jordan uneasy.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Ken Bacon said Iraqi troops appeared to be preparing for their regular autumn exercises but were not mobilizing in large numbers.
“We do not see actions that appear to threaten Jordan right now,” Bacon said. “The concern we have with Iraqi exercises and movements is that every time they practice they become better, faster at positioning their troops, which of course reduces our warning time.”
In Jordan, a U.S. Embassy official said the two-week military exercises, called “Infinite Moonlight,” would begin Friday in the spectacular desert region of Wadi Rum, 175 miles south of Amman.