News of the fall of Baghdad blared loudly from the television in the bustling lobby of the Hotel Intercontinental. Journalists who had made the hotel their home for the first weeks of war crowded the room as they left for the Iraqi capital.

Aid agencies in the Jordanian capital saw it as a signal that the time for them to spring into action was drawing closer after weeks of fighting had kept them tied down.

Only hours before, in the meeting room of the Middle East Council of Churches' Amman offices, staff members stared in disbelief at TV images of American troops entering the centre of Baghdad without a fight, then expressed relief that the war was, basically, over.

The streets of Amman were quiet when the initial news broke that Baghdad had fallen. A taxi driver named Kurdi was thankful there was no battle for the city of Baghdad, fearing the bloodshed that would have come from street fighting. "We need peace in the region," the Jordanian said.

The relief was also felt in neighboring Syria. At St Mary's Syrian Orthodox monastery, an Iraqi family, who had been stranded at the monastery when the war broke out, was looking forward to finally returning home.

The family had gone to the monastery to meet a son who had been studying medicine in Sweden—without permission from Iraqi authorities. The Saddam Hussein regime had forbidden doctors to leave the country.

In another monastery, St George's, near the Syrian village of Tartous, about 50 people were preparing to return to Iraq. Among them was Edmon Esho, who had left Baghdad with his wife and three children to escape the violence of war. Like the other refugees in the monastery, Esho said the future in Baghdad looked uncertain. 

"We do not know whether our belongings and our car ...

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