Back in 1995 I was posted to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The kingdom was created by the British Government after the First World War part of a promise made to Cherif Hussain of Mecca for his support in the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Turkish Rulers.
The Hashemite’s claim direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad and are an ancient ruling family. Traditionally the Guardians of the Holy Sites of Mecca and Jerusalem. A Bedouin family ruling over many tribes in Arab Peninsula now known as Saudi Arabia. The Al-Saud Family were their mortal enemies and rival amongst all the Bedouin tribes of the region. Ibn Saud and his family are described as brigands and uneducated boors by the Hashemites who as rulers/Protectors of the Holy Sites and part of the Family of the Prophet. However the Saud are also an old princely family but without the family connection to the Prophet.
The Hashemite’s were forced out of Arabia when the Al-Saud clan won several battles against the Hashemites and their allies and forced them to move to Jordan, Irak, Syria after 1922. You may remember from the movie Lawrence of Arabia the background of this story, the political hand of the British is never far in all this history.
In the Summer of 1995, 7 August, the day I arrived in the Kingdom on Jordanian Airlines, I was met at the airport by my colleagues, I was taken to my new home near the Fourth Circle, my garden back-up against the wall of the Queen Mother’s Palace. So I had a large division of Arab Army soldiers (all bedouins) next door to me. I should write about them they are absolutely lovely fellows. One of the brother’s of the King, Prince Muhammad lived just one block away from me, so it was a very secure neighbourhood.
As we passed the Fourth Circle on our way to the Chancery, police cars appeared behind us escorting a motorcade, they motioned our driver to give way, which he did. My colleague pointed out that the two black cars were carrying the sons-in-laws of President Saddam Hussein of Irak. They had defected to Jordan with their wives and kids. King Hussein bin Talal had given them asylum, he did not owe any favours to Saddam and the Baath Party.
King Hussein bin Talal (1935-1999)
Hussein Kamel Al-Majid and his brother Saddam Kamel Al-Majid were both second cousins and Sons-in-Law of the Iraqi dictator. They had little formal education and were promoted well beyond their capabilities. Neither were particularly intelligent and because of family ties were put in position of trust. However Saddam Kamel lost his position as Head of the guards responsible for President Saddam Hussein’s security. His brother Hussein Kamel was entrusted with military and chemical weapons secrets and the development program of such weapons. Irak would use such weapons against its own people, this was the extent of their military weaponry and the world would learn later that Irak never had any weapons of mass destruction, that was a convenient lie.
Both brothers probably felt insecure due to the intense rivalry with the sons of President Saddam Hussein, Odai a cruel and violent alcoholic, who took pleasure in beating those who worked for him and Qusai who was particularly violent and feared, it is believed that Qusai was psychotic, both were known for their cruelty.
In being granted asylum in Jordan both brothers were to be discreet, quiet and live at a guest palace in the outskirts of Amman, the Jordanian Capital. This however is not what happened. Hussein Kamel called for the overthrow of his father-in-law President Saddam Hussein and presented himself as a possible replacement. He tried to ingratiate himself with the CIA and the British MI6, he had a list of things he wanted, he really had an inflated sense of who he was and both the USA and Britain quickly lost interest in him. At that moment both brothers realized that they were in a golden cage they could not leave and isolated for the rest of their lives. At this point communications between the daughters of President Saddam Hussein and their brothers back in Baghdad, Qusai and Odai took place with complicated negotiations for a return home. The two daughters wanted to go home, they obviously had not been consulted on this defection to Jordan.
In Amman many were following this buffoons circus and we were wondering how long His Majesty King Hussein would put up with such nonsense. King Hussein was in my opinion a very great charismatic leader, much loved by his people for his own personal courage and determination. I was presented to him and instantly liked him. His wife Queen Noor was also an extremely intelligent and kind person. The Hashemite Royal Family are good long term friends of Canada. Our diplomatic relations are excellent to this day.
Queen Noor of Jordan
The circus of the two defectors in Amman lasted 6 months and it ended like it started as a complete surprise. Suddenly one morning both brothers announced that they were returning to Irak. Apparently their father-in-law President Saddam Hussein had forgiven them for their treason, all was well, it was ok to go home. Everyone was surprised by this news and disbelieving, given the horror of the regime in Irak which was not known for its kindness towards traitors like those two.
The road trip from Amman to Baghdad is about 10 hours on the highway across the desert. Every media crew in Amman decided to follow the convoy to the border with Irak, I remember CNN and the BBC and many others all going, they all wanted to see if indeed the brothers were forgiven. No one believed they would remain alive long once in Irak but then again Saddam Hussein had surprised many in the past by not doing what was expected of him. King Hussein wished them luck but he knew their fate was sealed.
At the Border Crossing both sons of Saddam Hussein, Odai and Qusai and a strong detachment of Irak Republican guards were waiting. The Sons-in-Law were separated from their wives and children and got a public beating before being pushed into a truck.
The next day in Baghdad, in front of President Saddam Hussein their father-in-law they were made to divorce their wives. This was the signal that it was now ok to kill them both.
Both were dead within 48 hours, shot by family members. Saddam Hussein claimed later that he had no idea this was going to happen. Some 40 other family members of the brothers including their father were also shot to death, their sister and some children. A form of family house cleaning the Saddam Hussein way.
Living in Jordan was always filled with tensions, being positioned geographically in the middle of bullies, Syria, Irak, Israël all ready at a moments notice to shoot at each other and Jordan in the middle trying not to get involved and be that oasis of stability.
The next big crisis would come in 1997 with the Khaled Meshaal Affair. The Prime Minister of Israël Benjamin Netanyahu thought that killing Mr Meshaal, leader of Hamas justified the risk of acting in Jordan, where Israel had a peace treaty and supposedly normal diplomatic relations. Netanyahu had also dragged Canada foolishly into this situation and for what reason? He did the same thing with various other European countries in a complicated chess game that suited his personal political ambitions at home.
Five agents of the Mossad, Israel’s external intelligence agency, were duly sent to Amman, posing as Canadian tourists carrying good quality fake Canadian passports. They ambushed Mr Meshaal on a street corner and sprayed poison into his left ear, inflicting instant paralysis and, so they hoped, death within 48 hours. This all happened around lunch time and I returned after lunch to find the staff in a state of panic. This was very serious and potentially dangerous for us at the Embassy. Israel’s PM Netanyahu had put Canada into a terrible conflict situation, a nation with whom he professed friendly relations and had endangered peace in the region. I remember thinking at the time how none of this would have happened while Yitzhak Rabin was alive, he had been assassinated by a fanatical Israëli settler two years previously. Prime Minister Rabin a Nobel Prize winner and a man of Peace.
Then everything went wrong for the Israeli agents. The Jordanian security forces responded to this brazen daylight attack, arresting two of the Israeli agents and forcing three to hide in their country’s embassy, which was promptly surrounded by troops.
Instead of escaping over the border, the Mossad team found itself trapped in Amman. Mr Netanyahu was forced to send emissaries to King Hussein of Jordan to plead for their release. The king, drove a hard bargain. First, Israel had to supply an antidote to the poison that was killing Mr Meshaal. Jordanian doctors duly used this to save his life.
Then Mr Netanyahu had to go beyond a standard release of Arab prisoners from Israeli jails. He ended up freeing nine Jordanians, 61 Palestinians. Only then did King Hussein release the five Israeli agents. Mr Netanyahu, trapped in a debacle of his own making, found himself supplying the means to save Mr Meshaal’s life. After King Hussein died in 1999, Mr Meshaal was expelled from Jordan, moving first to Qatar and then Syria.