Town march demonstrates Iraq's pull in Jordan WAR IN THE GULF


KERAK, Jordan -- The last time a major Western army came to this hilltop town, a fellow named Saladin drove it from its fortress on a wave of Islamic fervor. That was 810 years ago, during the Crusades.

Yesterday, in celebration of an Islamic holy day, the locals turned out a few miles south of here in Muta to march in support of their present-day Saladin -- Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

The noisy, banner-waving procession of about 7,000 was Jordan's first major pro-Iraqi demonstration outside the capital city of Amman, indicating that Mr. Hussein's appeal is just as strong in the hinterlands.

"We wanted to express the feelings of the region toward what is happening to Iraq and its children and its women," said Agel Tarawmeh, 40, a Kerak postal worker.

Sultan Abutayeh, 34, a professor of public administration at the nearby university in Muta who holds a degree from the State University of New York, said Jordan's masses had taken up Saddam Hussein's cause because "he is defending the people; he is defending the poor. He is taking away the fear which was planted inside us years and years ago by outsiders and, above all, he is fighting for a just cause."

A fellow professor, Hussein Sharah, seconded Mr. Abutayeh's opinion and said, "I feel Saddam will win the war. Defeat is not in the mind of the Arab world now.

"We would like to die before we would reach that point."

The march, extending down a street for half a mile, had all the ingredients that have become customary at Amman's frequent demonstrations -- Iraqi flags, posters of Mr. Hussein, chants of pro-Iraq and anti-U.S. slogans, a ululating contingent of several hundred women and children, and countless homemade models of Scud missiles, the reigning symbol of Arab defiance.

"The Scuds are a sign of pride, because since 1948 we have been hit and hit by Israel and have never hit back," said Sultan Rawashdeh, 23, an unemployed laborer. "Now we have the power and technology to hit back."

The marchers also expressed strong support for their country's leader, King Hussein. They especially backed his recent words of support for Iraq, words that angered President Bush and precipitated a State Department review of aid to the desert kingdom.

"In the Western mind in the past, there was some separation between the king and the people," said Mr. Sharah.

"It was a myth.

"Now the reality is erasing this, and the West can see there is no difference between the king and the people."

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