In Jordan, Scud trinkets mean profit for merchant War in the Gulf

February 05, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

AMMAN,JORDAN — AMMAN, Jordan -- Here on the glass top counter of Feisal Afghani's curiosity shop, there are at least 100 Scud missiles, freshly painted and made only this morning. Mr. Afghani is gently blow-drying the final coat of varnish.

Each Scud is three inches long, stamped and cut from a sheet of zinc. Within an hour they will become key chains and brooches, and by late afternoon not a single one will be left.

At 2.50 dinars ($3.75) apiece, they are the hottest-selling items in Amman.

Such are the oddities of life during wartime in the neutral zone of Jordan, an oasis of unsettled peace between Israel and Iraq.

It is a place where you'll find a restaurant called Uncle Sam's displaying a portrait of Saddam Hussein; where wild rumors of assassinations and Iraqi triumphs bolt through the streets like desert lightning; where thousands each night stay glued to the radio for the latest war news from the BBC, Radio Monte Carlo and Baghdad Radio; and where children scamper through playgrounds with arms outstretched, spitting out sounds of gunfire as they "shoot down" allied bombers from the imaginary cockpits of Iraqi jets.

It is in this environment that Mr. Afghani found the perfect way to boost sales at the family's downtown business, by turning the Scud into a trinket.

Sales have already topped 2,000. "Everything we produce we sell," he said. "Yesterday I was wearing one I was going to give my wife and I had to sell it because we had run out."

Why so popular? Because Scuds have shipped death and fear to Israel, just as Mr. Hussein promised. "I did not expect they would hit Tel Aviv," Mr. Afghani said, "because I am used to Arab leaders just talking and blubbering with no action. But President Saddam, whatever he says he does. He is very different."


One can easily identify the major combatants in the gulf war by strolling the streets of Amman. The countries doing the fighting have Jordanian jeeps parked in front of their embassies, each mounted with a machine gun. Embassies of non-combatants get only a foot patrolman with an automatic weapon slung across his shoulder.

Until recently, the American and Iraqi embassies had additional embellishments. Iraq's was a sign posted out front telling journalists that visas were no longer available "due to the Zionist attack." Now some visas have been issued.

The American Embassy had its own private anti-war vigil out front. Ellen Rosser, an American from California, sat across the street from the embassy entrance each day after Jan. 17, vowing fast until President Bush called home the troops. The other day she flew back to the United States, promising to continue her fast across the street from the White House.

* At the Iraqi border the closeness of war is quickly apparent, both the frequent military checkpoints one must contend with and in the tales of gore and horror told by refugees emerging from Iraq.

Occasionally the wounded pass through. Last week a car pulled into the customs station with its windows blown out. A man lay bleeding on the back seat, his hands and chest cut by flying glass during a bombing raid, his companion said.

Three days ago government authorities carted into the country the charred remains of four drivers of Jordanian oil tanker trucks whose rigs had been burned up in an allied attack.

And sometimes, if one is patient, the distant deep thuds of explosions can be heard, blowing in from the east on a desert breeze.

Another vivid spillover from the war is the recurring scene of chaos with the arrival of each new batch of refugees: Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, people from many of the poorer countries of the world.

For some of these refugees, leaving the war only means entering even greater uncertainty. Some arriving Somalians, unable to return to their war-wracked country, have been taken to Libya. Others stayed behind in the tent camps, waiting to see how things go in Libya for their countrymen.

George Simplicio, 22, a college student from Sudan, doesn't have such options. While many of his fellow countrymen head for the Jordanian port of Aqaba and a boat ride home, he waits for something else.

Mr. Simplicio is from southern Sudan, home to the rebel forces that have been fighting the Khartoum government's army since 1983, at an estimated cost of 259,000 lives.

"My father went into hiding in 1989," he said. "He took a position of going into the bush and fighting against the government."

At worst, Mr. Simplicio figures he will be killed if he returns. At best, he said, he will be stuck there the rest of his life, unable to return to Baghdad to earn the degree in medical analysis that was only a few months away.

But he will not be allowed to stay in Jordan unless he stays in the damp, chilly tents of the refugee camps.

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