Jordan’s ‘all out war’

Maaruf Bakhit, 58, will take the post two weeks after the deadly hotel bombings that rocked the country.

He’s juggled a military and diplomatic career and holds a degree in War Studies from King’s College, London.

A retired army general, Mr Bakhit served as Jordan’s co-ordinator during negotiations with Israel that led to the October 1994 peace treaty between the two neighbours and was later ambassador to Turkey.

Mr Bakhit will replace Adnan Badran, in the job for just seven months but already deeply unpopular in opinion polls.

The revamp comes after the triple bombings in Amman that killed 60 people.

In a message to Mr Bakhit, King Abdullah said the new cabinet’s mission would be “to wage all-out war against extremist groups and their ideology.”

“This requires the urgent introduction of an anti-terrorist law,” the King added.

Mr Bakrit is expected to form his new cabinet in the next few days.

“Bakhit is a reformist. He is convinced that Jordan must forge ahead with changes to protect itself,” a senior official told AFP.

“Following the attacks and the threats issued by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Jordan believes more than ever that reforms spell protection,” the official said.

The Jordanian-born al- Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda’s frontman in Iraq, claimed the attacks and warned of more to come in his home country.

Early troubles

Former Prime Minister Badran, an academic, ran into trouble soon after he announced his cabinet.

He was forced to reshuffle his government in July under pressure from parliament despite pledges for reform.

An opinion poll published before the bombings showed that approval ratings for his government were the lowest of any administration after 200 days in office.

Since he has been Prime Minister, the government has raised oil prices twice, triggering dissatisfaction across the cash-strapped country.

And tough parliamentary criticism of Mr Badran’s performance has been viewed as the most direct challenge to King Abdullah since he assumed the throne in 1999.

Reforms

On Wednesday, a national panel submitted a 2,500-page document for across-the-board political and socio-economic reform over the next 10 years.

Proposed reforms include the creation of a new election law, expanding press freedoms, bolstering women’s rights and revamping the economy.

“Political development is part and parcel of comprehensive social, economic, cultural and administrative development,” Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Moasher on Wednesday.

The King also received a report on plans to overhaul local government as part of efforts to increase public participation in the kingdom’s affairs.

“Bakhit’s duty will be to ensure the implementation of the national agenda,” an official said, adding that King Abdullah was determined to “ease Jordanian discontent”.

The change at the top of government coincided with the publication of a report by the Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group, which urged the government to push for reform to avert further attacks.

“To minimise the risk of future terror attacks that feed on simmering public dissatisfaction, Jordan should implement long-promised political reforms,” it said.

The Jordanian official said plans for increased security and political reforms were in the pipeline.

“We cannot deploy policemen and soldiers on every street corner but we will carry out reform that is why we will engage in reform in schools and mosques,” the official said.