Jordanian students mourned as martyrs after stray U.S. bomb strikes

By Nancy A. Youssef Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) RAMTHA, Jordan _ The connection was weak and the call was short, but Umran Sreiheen’s family heard what the caller had to say: “Your son is dead.” Then the line disconnected. It was another 12 hours before Sreiheen’s family got a phone call from Iraq. Their 22-year-old son was leaving Mosul University in a car with three friends when what is believed to be a U.S. missile fell on the road in front of them. The car flipped several times, killing all four. Sreiheen was one of five Jordanians who have been killed in Iraq since the war began. The fifth, a driver named Ahmed el Bauz, died last week when a missile landed in front of his car near the Jordan-Iraq border. The news of the students’ deaths Monday has spread throughout this country’s 5 million people and has made an already unpopular war personal. Throughout the nation, all five men are simply called “martyrs.” King Abdullah sent a plane Tuesday to pick up their bodies. Thursday, thousands attended Sreiheen’s funeral. Between chants of “God is great” the crowd chanted “Death to Israel,” “Death to America” and “Death to Britain.” In the northern city of Ramtha, Sreiheen’s death has a special impact. Here, entire families live on the same block. The Sreiheen family alone consists of 200 people. In Sreiheen’s house, his family of 10 sleeps in two rooms, the men in one and the women in the other. They watch the war coverage on the same satellite television. All day long Thursday, one neighbor after another came by to mourn with the family. Like Srieheen’s family, many residents here send their children to school in Iraq because tuition is free. Sreiheen was one of nine children, four of whom were in college. His family said they couldn’t afford to send him to school in Jordan. Sreiheen was in his third year at the university, studying geography. About 4,000 Jordanians are studying in Iraq. According to Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher, 2,259 have returned home since the war began. The family described Sreiheen as outgoing, but couldn’t think of anything to say when they were asked if he had hobbies. In a town such as Ramtha, hobbies are a luxury. Sreiheen simply wanted to earn a degree and, like everyone in town, land a job with the government. “This is what people aspire for here,” said Ashraf Sreiheen, Umran’s cousin. While he was concerned about the Iraqis’ plight, Umran Sreiheen didn’t follow politics. So it was his mother who told him that the war made studying in Mosul too dangerous. She insisted that he come home, but he didn’t sense her urgency. Finally, Ashraf said, she insisted that her son leave right away and finish his studies in Jordan. Sreiheen obtained his paperwork to transfer schools, rented a car with three friends and left school around midnight Monday for the 14-hour drive. “She was scared for his life,” Ashraf Sreiheen said. Everyone thought the trip would be safe; the bombing had calmed in Mosul. But Umran never made it out of the city. The missile landed within the first 5 miles of the drive. As Sreiheen’s family talked about him, the conversation switched to the war. “Normal people should not be suffering because of Mr. Bush’s personal vengeance” against Saddam Hussein, said Mahmoud Sreiheen, Umran’s oldest uncle. “We didn’t know Bush would strike students.” At least one group, the Iraq Victims Compassion Campaign, is working with the U.S. Embassy in Amman to get aid for all five families. Sreiheen’s family hadn’t heard anything about the effort, however. The family said their pain was renewed when they learned about the bombing at a Baghdad market Wednesday. They said they didn’t understand why a nation that had such sophisticated weapons couldn’t differentiate between a market and a military base, a student and a soldier. Still, they didn’t want to criticize Americans. “We don’t even care about our lives anymore because of Mr. Bush’s actions,” Ashraf Sreiheen said. “But we still love the American people. They are a peaceful people.” ___ ‘copy 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.