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21 March 2003 / 18 Muharram 1424
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Mohammed AlKhereiji
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Thousands Defy Ban on Pro-Iraq Prayers and Demonstrations in Jordan
Mohammed Alkhereiji, Arab News War Correspondent

AMMAN, 22 March 2003 — A day after the Jordanian Interior Ministry warned imams against using mosques to further any political agenda or incite demonstrations, a violent mob gathered yesterday outside the Kalumati Mosque near the Israeli Embassy.

Around 200 riot police cordoned off the streets leading to the mosque, which lies a few blocks away from the Israeli Embassy, forcing mosque-goers to walk quite a distance.

Despite the difficulty in getting to Kalumati, the mosque was packed and many had no choice but to pray outside.

According to Hiba and Noor Abad, two sisters who attended the prayers, the sermon avoided directly addressing the war in Iraq. “The sermon was short by usual standards lasting all of 15 minutes. The imam spoke about the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his inner circle of friends and how they lived their lives,” said Hiba.

“But in the final prayer the imam did ask for divine support for the martyrs in Iraq and in the occupied territories of Palestine” Noor added.

Prayers were over by 12.30 p.m., and that’s when the trouble started. A group of young men in their 20s and 30s gathered and called for a quick jihad in Iraq. The group also called for the closure of the Israeli Embassy and the expulsion of their diplomats.

“Where are the Arab armies?” the demonstrators, including many veiled women and children, shouted as they emerged from the weekly Friday prayer.

“The United States is the head of the serpent,” they chanted.

One man who insisted on identifying himself as “Muslim, the son of a Muslim”, told reporters the United States “are criminals who created all the problems in the Middle East”.

“We are very angry,” he said, accusing the United States of launching a war on Iraq because “they hate Islam and nothing else.”

Still another demonstrator shouted: “The time to stand against injustice is now.”

It was then that security and riot police rushed in, beating the demonstrators with batons and forcing them to disperse.

Police also turned on onlookers and in one instance tried to confiscate the camera shared by Arab News and its sister publication Asharq Al-Awsat.

Elsewhere, in the Al-Bag’a Palestinian refugee camps located 22 kilometers outside Amman, things were uncharacteristically peaceful.

At the Al-Quds Mosque, the imam delivered a sermon which focused on the Iraq crisis and the “martyrs” in Palestine but no demonstrations took place.

In the southern town of Maan, an Islamist stronghold, pro-Iraqi demonstrators clashed yesterday with security forces who tried to disperse them, witnesses said.

“After the Friday prayers, thousands of people took to the streets to voice their support for Iraq despite a ban on public gatherings in the town, and clashed with the security forces,” one witness said.

“The police fired tear gas grenades to disperse the protesters while the demonstrators rained stones on them,” another witness said.

A resident later said by telephone that after the initial “tension,” police pulled back from t!he city center to the main roads leading to town to help restore calm in Maan, which has a history of violent anti-government protests.

“Thousands of worshippers emerged from the five Maan mosques, including the Grand Mosque, which can accommodate 3,000 people, shouting slogans of support for Iraq and accusing Arab regimes of treachery,” the resident said.

“With our blood and our soul we will support you, Saddam,” was the slogan on everyone’s lips, as the protesters paid tribute to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the sources said.

They vented their anger at Arab governments across the board, accusing them of being “valets of the United States,” which, along with Britain, launched military strikes on Iraq.

Hundreds of people also took to the streets in the Jordanian capital Amman and the northern city of Irbid after the weekly Friday prayers.

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