TRANSIT CAMP T1-28, Jordan — The human face of war rolled into Jordan's no-man's-land Tuesday in battered buses and broken taxis, with eyes drawn from horror and wet with fury. And with it came the first credible accounts of widespread civilian damage and casualties from allied bombing raids on military targets in Baghdad.
Most of the refugees were Egyptians who had lived in Baghdad, where, before the war, they were among the harshest and most vocal critics of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his ruthless regime. But then, as they tell it, the allied bombs began to fall around their homes a week ago, occasionally crushing children, maiming adults and paralyzing all of them with fear.
And now, angry young men like Majid Mohammed, a car mechanic whose government in Cairo is a key Arab member of the anti-Iraq alliance, curses the Americans even more than he does Hussein.
"This is not a war. This is an annihilation of a people," he shouted at two American journalists as he tugged angrily at his red-checkered kaffiyeh, or head scarf, in a crowd of nodding heads at the Red Cross transit camp for war refugees here. "Yes, I am Egyptian, but, please, take your hands off of Iraq. This is an Arab problem now.
"You are taking revenge on Iraq, on its children. . . . The revenge should not be taken on us, not on the Arabs. It should be taken on Saddam. What is the sin of all these people?"
Majid Mohammed was among more than 1,500 Egyptians to arrive Monday and Tuesday in the 43-mile-wide strip of desert between Iraq and Jordan known as the No-Man's-Land, and his was clearly the opinion of the others.
They are among the first of the tens of thousands of war refugees who are expected to flee in the coming days across this, the only real exit from a nation under siege and bombardment. And they told how some of the bombs aimed at military targets around the Iraqi capital are striking nearby homes in Baghdad's poorer suburbs.
But the anger and hatred voiced by the Egyptians here on the border signaled something far more ominous for the delicate international military alliance assembled to drive Hussein and his occupation force out of Kuwait. They were the first human hints that, at the grass-roots level in the Middle East, Hussein may ultimately succeed in transforming the Persian Gulf War into a confrontation between the West and the Arab world.
As one analyst in Jordan phrased it, "These Egyptians are going home now to their villages and cities, where the word will spread fast. Before you know it, (Egyptian President Hosni) Mubarak is going to have a real problem on his hands."
The accounts from the Egyptians, who detailed specific neighborhoods, streets and houses that had been hit in suburban Baghdad, were considered far more credible than stories from their Palestinian and Jordanian counterparts, who are passionate partisans of Hussein. The Palestinians and Jordanians, interviewed Tuesday at the Jordanian border crossing of Ruweished west of here, said allied agents were poisoning the Tigris River in Baghdad and distributing toxins in anti-chemical warfare syringes in Kuwait.
Ahmed Said, an Egyptian who stood in the transit camp with his hand on the shoulder of his 13-year-old son, Hamad, described the scene in Baghdad's Doura district when allied bombers began hitting a nearby oil refinery and power station in the poor, residential neighborhood.
"When the planes would come, there were no lights in the house," he said. "So we'd run out of our houses and go out on the street, afraid the house would fall on us. Then we would run to the (bomb) shelters. But there was no room in the shelters. So we would sit beside the door. We felt safer there.
"But, of course, many civilians were hit."
Masbah Said, another Egyptian, interrupted, adding his own version of the third, fourth and fifth nights of bombing, when Western journalists who were confined to the downtown Al Rashid Hotel could see dozens of bright, crescent-shaped flashes on the horizon, the apparent result of B-52 bombing runs on Baghdad's outskirts.
"In the five days (we were there), the bombing was concentrated on the (military) installations," Masbah Said said. "But there are some residential areas near these installations. . . . There were civilian casualties, including Egyptians, Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians.
"It was because of the intensity of the bombing--it was after five days--that we left. Certainly we were afraid."
It was then that Majid Mohammed, his eyes watering with rage, joined the conversation, shouting at the two Westerners as others soon joined in.
"People are dying in the streets. I have seen it. They are bombing both civilian and military places. In Faloojha Street, I myself saw corpses lying. I took some wounded and dead people to Faloojha General Hospital. There were many children--some 5 and 6 years old.