US faces growing Iraqi backlash to travel ban

AFP , Sunday 29 Jan 2017

Washington faced a growing backlash in Baghdad on Sunday to its decision to bar citizens of Iraq, a key partner in the war against jihadists, from entering the United States.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen from entering the US for at least 90 days, a move he billed as an effort to make America safe from "radical Islamic terrorists".

The move has sparked anger in Iraq, whose forces have been fighting against the Islamic State group with American assistance for more than two years, and led to calls for a reciprocal ban on US citizens.

"We clearly demanded that the Iraqi government deal reciprocally in all issues... with the United States of America," Hassan Shwairid, the deputy head of the Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee, told AFP.

Because of its role in fighting IS, Iraq is worthy of special treatment rather than restrictions, Shwairid said.

"It is not possible for Iraq to fight (IS) today on behalf of all countries of the world (and) be dealt with like other countries," the lawmaker said.

Shwairid said that the call did not apply to the thousands of American military personnel in the country as part of the US-led coalition against IS.

It "is not related to the soldiers because they are present in the framework of the forces of the international coalition", he said.

A foreign ministry official said that meetings were ongoing to determine Iraq's response.

"Intensive meetings are taking place now and a crisis cell was formed in the foreign ministry to discuss the stance of the American administration," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Earlier on Sunday, the Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful paramilitary umbrella organisation that includes Iran-backed Shiite militias that fought against American forces in past years, called for US citizens to be banned from the country.

"After the decision of the American president to prohibit the entry of Iraqi citizens to the United States of America, we demand Americans be prevented from entering Iraq, and the removal of those of them who are present," the Hashed said in a statement.

The statement did not specify if the call applied to American military personnel in Iraq, and the Hashed al-Shaabi's spokesman was not immediately reachable for comment.

Both units from the Hashed and American troops are deployed in the Mosul area as part of the operation to retake the city from IS, and heightened anti-US sentiment among militiamen could increase the danger to Washington's forces.

The Hashed al-Shaabi has played a significant role in halting IS's sweeping 2014 offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, and later in pushing the jihadists back.

But it has also faced repeated accusations of abuses including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property in the course of the war against IS.

Trump's travel restrictions also drew condemnation from populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, America's bete noir for much of its 2003-2011 war in Iraq.

"You enter Iraq and other countries with all freedom and prevent their entry into your country," Sadr, the scion of a powerful clerical family who rose to widespread fame due to his condemnation of and violent resistance to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, said in a statement.

Sadr condemned this as "arrogance" and told the US to "get your nationals out before removing expatriates".

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