The regime of Saddam Hussein rejected repeated requests from Jordan to hand over Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who now heads al-Qaida in Iraq, the Jordanian king said in an interview published today.
King Abdullah II told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat that Jordan exerted “big efforts” with Saddam’s government to extradite al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian sentenced to death at home for terrorist activities.
“But our demands that the former regime hand him over were in vain,” Abdullah said.
“We had information that he entered Iraq from a neighbouring country, where he lived and what he was doing. We informed the Iraqi authorities about all this detailed information we had, but they didn’t respond,” the king said.
Washington accuses al-Zarqawi, 38, of forming a network of terrorists to attack US-led forces in Iraq and has a £13.5m (€19.6m) bounty on him.
Abdullah also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, insisting that Israel withdraw from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“If withdrawal from Gaza isn’t followed by withdrawal from territories in the West Bank, we will go back to square one,” the king said.
“The demanded peace is one that would end occupation and reinforce justice and establish a balanced relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis, on one side, and between Arabs and Israelis, on the other.”
On Mideast democratic reforms, an issue the US has pushed for, Abdullah said Jordan has started reforms that are in harmony with the country’s Arab and Islamic heritage.
“I’m fully convinced that reform is essential and important for the Middle East,” Abdullah concurred but added: “Our stance is that reform that comes under foreign pressure won’t succeed.”
Many Arab leaders have taken a similar stance.
“I believe that the Middle East is at a crossroads and we have to root in reform to combat poverty, unemployment and tension,” Abdullah said.
“The coming two years are crucial.”
Since ascending to the throne five years ago, Abdullah, 43, has sought to press ahead with reforms introduced by his late father, King Hussein, who died in 1999. A computer and internet enthusiast, Abdullah wants to make Jordan a regional information technology hub.
He also wants to see his nation geared toward open-market economy and globalisation and has introduced relevant legislation in recent years.