Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Jordan Thwarts Iraqi Travellers

The days of preferential treatment for Iraqis have vanished, along with Saddam’s low-price oil.
By Mohamed Fawzi

Iraqi driver Karim Muhammad ferries his countrymen into Jordan, and has few illusions about the difficulties of his job. “Judgment day is less stressful than getting into Jordan,” he said.

Before the war, Iraqis could cross into the Hashemite Kingdom with relative ease.

In those days, Iraqis got preferential treatment at the borders since Saddam Hussein gave Jordan half its oil free of charge and the other half at rock bottom prices.

Today, though, all of that has changed.

Not only has the oil contract been cancelled, Iraqis also are seen as security risks, thanks to the bombing of Jordan’s embassy in Baghdad, and even as potential economic migrants capable of stealing jobs from the already hard-pressed Jordanians.

Drivers and border officials alike say Iraqis are likely to be turned back by the Jordanians unless they’re importing cars, or can prove they're merely passing through Jordan to another destination.

The Jordanian embassy in Baghdad declined IWPR’s request for an interview, but Iraqi border officials say their Jordanian counterparts can deny entry to anyone of dubious appearance.

Unfortunately, though, Jordanian officials occasionally seem to assess Iraqis somewhat arbitrarily these days.

Frustrated traveller Ahmed Hussein made sure he had all his papers in order before departing for Jordan.

But after waiting four hours at the border, he was accused of possessing false travel documents, and officials turned him away – after tearing up all of his papers.

“They didn't like the way I looked,” said Ahmed.

“It often depends on the Jordanian border officials' mood,” said Akram Hameed, the head of the Iraqi passport office in Traibeel.

As a result, many Iraqis have been forced to adopt illegal or questionable actions to cross the frontier.

Iraqi driver Mustafa Abdul Karim helped usher a girl and her mother into Jordan with forged papers. To get them across, he says, he also had to spend the equivalent of around 5,000 US dollars to bribe Jordanian border officers.

Unsurprisingly, Iraqis also blame the Coalition for their problems.

As most Iraqis don’t hold passports recognised by other countries, the Coalition was initially willing to issue them with temporary travel documents.

But this has stopped, and even the earlier papers aren't always accepted.

While car merchant Muthana Saleem did manage to cross the frontier with just the Coalition travel documents, he was soon arrested in Jordan and deported to Iraq for not having a passport.

"Why does the Coalition Provisional Authority even issue travel documents if they are invalid in the neighbouring countries," grumbled one Iraqi border official.

But Muthana Selim doesn’t grumble. He thinks retaliation is called for, "We should not allow any Jordanian to enter Iraq.”

Mohamed Fawzi and Izzat Abdul Razaq are trainee journalists in Baghdad.

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