King Hussein of Jordan has moved decisively against Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, by sending a special envoy to London to invite Iraqi opposition groups to meet in Amman. Laith Kubba, a long-standing opponent of the Iraqi regime who met the Jordanian envoy, said: "The idea is to have a national reconciliation meeting between Shia, Sunni and Kurds."
President Saddam is likely to be deeply worried by this threat to Iraq's last remaining link to the outside world. The king's shift towards the opposition increases Baghdad's isolation, as Jordan maintained a friendly neutrality to Iraq during the war with Iran and the Gulf war over Kuwait.
The Iraqi opposition is divided between Kurds in the north, Sunni Muslims in the centre and Shia Muslims in the south.
Kamran Karadaghi, a specialist on Iraq working for the Arab daily al- Hayat, says King Hussein believes that "Iraqi society needs reconciliation between its major sections."
Although King Hussein is at present in London, which is the European centre for Iraqi exiles, contacts with the Iraqi opposition are being conducted by his envoy, known as Mohammed Ali. Opposition sources said yesterday that they did not believe the king would oppose Iraq without encouragement from the US and Britain.
The change in attitude become apparent when Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamel, President Saddam's son-in-law, fled to Jordan in August.
The king began to take a more hostile attitude to Baghdad. In an interview with Newsweek last month he spoke of the "tremendous fear" in Iraq of a bloodbath between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. President Saddam has played on these divisions to stay in power.
The king said the way out for Iraq was to "get together credible representation from these three great concentrations of people and work out a national reconciliation between them and probably a new constitution. The time has come to look at the possibility of a federation or a federal state in Iraq."
Opponents of the regime in Baghdad believe they will bemore effective if they are based in Amman and not in Kurdistan, which hitherto has been the centre of resistance to the regime. Mr Kubba says he would like to see "a skeleton administration" for Iraq, if not a government in exile.
The success of King Hussein's plan depends on his ability to win the trust of the Iraqi army, over which President Saddam has maintained full control since his defeat in the Gulf war. But his plans may encounter fierce opposition from Syria and Iran, which do not want to see President Saddam replaced by a pro-American regime.
President Saddam has suffered two serious blows this year. First there was the defection of two of his sons-in-law and his daughters in August.
Then he may have miscalculated by releasing documentation about Iraq's biological and chemical warfare plans to the UN mission, led by Rolf Ekeus, which monitored the destruction of Iraq's super-weapons. Mr Ekeus says Iraq is still concealing information and the UN Security Council is united over the need to maintain sanctions.
General Kamel is unlikely to play an important part in Jordan's plans. His movements in Amman are severely restricted, and Syria changed its mind about inviting him to Damascus earlier this month. He has been unable to establish relations with the Iraqi opposition, which remains suspicious of a former chief lieutenant of President Saddam. "They don't rule him out and they don't rule him in," one source said.
The king's move will be opposed by many in Jordan,where there is still some sympathy for the Iraqi leader. Last month a Jordanian journalist was arrested for publishing an article citing officials as saying 42 top Jordanian businessmen, journalists, officials and a minister were in Iraq's pay.Reuse content