BAGHDAD, Jan 29, (Agencies): An Iraqi paramilitary umbrella group fighting against jihadists called Sunday for Baghdad to bar Americans from the country after Washington began preventing the entry of citizens of states including Iraq. President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring citizens of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, 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”.
Both units from the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary organisation and American troops are deployed in the Mosul area as part of the operation to retake the city from the Islamic State group, and heightened anti-US sentiment among militiamen could increase the danger to Washington’s forces. “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 a spokesman was unreachable for comment. The most powerful groups in the Hashed al-Shaabi are Iran-backed Shiite militias, some of whom fought against US forces in previous years.
Thousands of American troops are deployed to Iraq as part of a US-led coalition against IS that has provided air support, training and other assistance to Baghdad’s forces. Hashed forces 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 they have also faced repeated accusations of abuses including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property in the course of the war against IS. Trump’s decision led to the detention of incoming refugees at US airports, sparking protests, legal challenges and widespread condemnation from rights groups.
The travel restrictions, which come on the heels of repeated assertions by Trump that the US should have stolen Iraq’s oil before leaving in 2011, risk alienating the citizens and government of a country fighting against militants the president has cast as a major threat to America.
Kuwait awaits consular guidance
According to a diplomatic official, Kuwait has not received any letter from US authorities regarding the ban on Iraqis, Syrians, Sudanese, Libyans, Yemenis, Somalis and Iranians from entering US territories.
He said Kuwait will execute the instructions soon as they are received and will apply them on travelers from the banned countries who intend to travel to the United States of America through Kuwait’s airport, reports Al- Rai daily.
He indicated that no consular instructions have been issued yet from the US State Department to its missions around the world regarding how to deal with entry visa holders and green card holders. The official said the US Embassy in Kuwait is also waiting for instructions from Washington with regards to the decision, stressing that the embassy will announce the procedures to be taken to deal with nationals from the concerned countries among the residents in Kuwait, irrespective of whether they are entry visa holders or green card holders or those wishing to obtain one from the embassy.
In Mosul, where Iraqi forces are at the forefront of the war against jihadists, soldiers are unhappy that security concerns could keep them from visiting relatives in the United States. “It’s not fair, it’s not right. I should have the right to visit my family,” said Assem Ayad, a 23-year-old soldier deployed in Mosul who has three cousins living in Texas. “This decision was made because there are terrorist groups in Iraq. But there are also innocent people” including those who are fighting against jihadists, said Ayad, who carried an American-made assault rifle.
Haider Hassan, 45, another soldier in Mosul, said his cousin lives in the United States and that he had wanted to visit. Referring to US military personnel deployed in Iraq, Hassan asked: “Why would they ban us from coming to America when they are in my country and have bases here?” The Islamic State group overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, sweeping aside military and police units that were ill-prepared to combat the offensive. But Iraqi forces backed by US-led air support, training and other assistance have since regained much of the territory they lost, and are now three months into a massive operation to retake Mosul, the country’s last city in which IS still holds significant ground.
Hamza Kadhim, 34, noted that he and other Iraqi soldiers are part of the battle against jihadists, and also emphasised that the actions of extremists do not reflect Islam as a whole. “On the day of his inauguration, Trump said he would fight Islamic terrorists.
As Iraqi soldiers here to defend our country and fight terrorists, we tell him: Islam is not terrorism. Islam is a religion of love and brotherhood.” “We don’t send terrorists to foreign countries … but we have had people coming to Iraq from foreign countries to kill, rape and rob. And we will keep fighting them until the last drop of our blood,” he said, referring to IS militants.
The travel restrictions follow repeated statements by Trump that the US should have “kept the oil” in Iraq, remarks that have drawn criticism from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Iraq plans to lobby against the 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 US military aid against IS, the Iraqi government has so far declined comment on an executive order signed by Trump on Friday that suspends the entry of travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. 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 US 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. Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran on Sunday to protest against US President Donald Trump’s travel ban against people from Iran and six other Muslim nations, state news agency IRNA reported. A note handed to the envoy, who represents US interests in Iran because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties, said Trump’s executive order “was based on false and discriminatory pretexts and (went) against human rights conventions”, IRNA said.