Waiting for the War

In Amman, the capital of Jordan, the waiting is intense. “It is the uncertainty that’s killing us,” said a young woman in one of the city’s ministries as freezing rain lashed the streets outside. When is the war going to start? How long will it last? What will happen? Everyone wants to know, but nobody has the answers. Amman is heavy with journalists, spies, and diplomats. Jordanians are angry and frightened by the prospect of war, but the many Iraqi exiles living there are excited, although apprehensive. They are daring to hope that the days of the “Saddamites,” as they call them, are truly numbered.

In the bar of the Hyatt hotel I talked with Ibrahim Janabi, a leader of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), one of Iraq’s opposition groups, which was set up in 1990 and includes many defectors. He wore a dramatic white scarf and a brown leather jacket, and reminisced about his time as an Iraqi agent in London in the late 1980s. He had been posted there to coordinate the operations of Saddam Hussein’s various intelligence organizations. “My cover was to be a graduate student in information science.” Something went wrong, though. Mr. Janabi was recalled to Baghdad and thrown into jail. A few years after he was released he fled to Jordan and joined the opposition.

Mr. Janabi was in a state of high excitement. He told me that he had just received word from a courier that men from his organization, working together with Americans operating undercover in Baghdad, had set off “three or four” bombs in buildings belonging to different intelligence services. They had exploded at night and only a few people had been injured. Naturally, he said, the government of Saddam Hussein was keeping the incidents quiet because otherwise Iraqis would think that the security services were losing their grip. Now, he chuckled, intelligence organizations were at each other’s throats, each blaming the other.

Mr. Janabi went on to explain how “our men still inside the regime” would, when the right moment came—and he thought that that would be very soon—“start to do their duties, to capture all the important locations.” He said they would take over the army and security forces and, “at the same time, not let Saddam or his close circle use chemical or biological weapons against the Iraqi people or allied forces.” He did not say just how. But he added darkly that “top people” in Baghdad “know that if they are not with us they will die.” He also predicted that once the military campaign began, whole towns and regions would immediately go over to the opposition.

As Mr. Janabi rapturously described his view of the coming liberation of Iraq and the campaign, which he said had already started, I was quite aware that I could not check on a word he said. As for the bombs, the story might be true, but it might equally be a fantasy or …

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