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Iraq to oppose US travel curbs, keen to preserve cooperation against Islamic State

The order stirred angry reactions in Iraq, where more than 5,000 US troops are deployed to help Iraqi and regional Kurdish forces in the war against IS insurgents

By: Reuters | Baghdad/mosul |
January 29, 2017 8:50:57 pm
Fuad Sharef Suleman and his family push their belongings after returning to Iraq from Egypt, where they were prevented from boarding a plane to the U.S., following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to temporarily bar travellers from seven countries, including Iraq, at Erbil International Airport, Iraq, January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad Fuad Sharef Suleman and his family push their belongings after returning to Iraq from Egypt, where they were prevented from boarding a plane to the US, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily bar travellers from seven countries, including Iraq, at Erbil International Airport, Iraq, January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Ahmed Saad

Iraq plans to lobby against new restrictions on travel to the United States by Iraqis, arguing the two countries need to preserve their alliance against Islamic State (IS), two members of the Iraqi parliament close to the government said on Sunday.

Dependent on U.S. military aid against IS, the Iraqi government has so far declined comment on an executive order signed by new U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday that suspends the entry of travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.

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The order stirred angry reactions in Iraq, where more than 5,000 US troops are deployed to help Iraqi and regional Kurdish forces in the war against IS insurgents.

Some members of parliament said Iraq should retaliate with similar measures against the United States.

“Iraq is in the front line of the war on terrorism (…) and it is unfair that the Iraqis are treated in this way,” parliament’s foreign affairs committee said in a statement.

“We call on the Iraqi government to retaliate for the decision taken by the U.S. administration,” it added after a session on Sunday in Baghdad.

Baghdad plans to lobby Washington to review the decision, according to two lawmakers who declined to be identified.

One of them told Reuters that the government will “explain that Iraq as a sovereign country will be forced to apply similar treatment, and that would affect negatively cooperation, including military cooperation”, in the conflict with IS.

Popular Mobilization, a coalition of mainly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups armed and trained by Iran to fight Islamic State, urged Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s government to expel US nationals.

Influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Sunday American citizens should leave Iraq. “It would be arrogance for you (Americans) to enter Iraq and other countries freely while barring them entrance to your country … and therefore you should get your nationals out,” he said on his website.

CRITICAL US SUPPORT FOR CAMPAIGN AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE

The US-led coalition is providing critical air and ground support to Iraqi forces in the ongoing battle to wrest Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, from Islamic State.

Mosul is the last major Iraqi city still under the control of Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group that declared a self-styled “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The government announced on Tuesday that Iraqi forces had recaptured all of Mosul east of the Tigris River that cleaves through the city, and were girding for an onslaught on the jihadists on the western bank.

An Iraqi who worked four years as a translator for US forces in the hope of obtaining a Special Immigration Visa (SIV) felt betrayed by the Trump administration’s decision and said he now feared for his life.

The man said he was hired by US forces after tipping them off about a house where insurgents were making car bombs in Mosul. He said that while employed by the Americans he had saved the life of a serviceman by pulling him to safety after US troops came under militant attack in Mosul.

“My life is (now) in danger,” said the translator, who spoke in an eastern district of Mosul under the condition he was neither identified nor photographed.

He told Reuters that he used to consider the Americans to be “brothers but I don’t trust those guys anymore”.

He added that bureaucratic and personal problems delayed his applications to the US Special Immigrant Visa program designed for those employed by the US military and US civilian agencies until their withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

“Please, please, please get me out of this country,” he said on Sunday.

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