Why Iraqis take issue with Trump’s travel ban

Sunday 05/02/2017

The temporary ban to enter the United States imposed on nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries has sparked outrage from various parties but Iraqis took par­ticular issue with US President Donald Trump’s executive order.

Several political and militia leaders wanted Iraq to kick out US troops in the country as part of an international coalition to root out Islamic State (ISIS) militants from the city of Mosul.

The Iraqi parliament called on the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take “reciprocal measures”, which, however, would not extend to the US Army and Air Force.

Abadi said, even though the ban is an “offence to Iraq” and punished those “who are fighting terrorism”, he would not be taking retaliatory measures. Iraq’s Foreign Ministry urged Washington to review its decision.

Details on who is included in the blanket ban are unclear and chang­ing. At first, US green card holders were included in the ban but that decision was reversed. Britain intervened to have its Iraqi-born nationals excluded. There were — now dispelled — rumours that even Israeli Jews born in Iraq might have been included.

For many Iraqis the ban came as a shock even though they were never welcomed with red carpets when travelling to countries in the West. They have become ac­customed to being perceived as citizens of an “enemy state”.

Still, many are surprised that is still the case after 2003, when the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein and brought in a succes­sion of pro-American governments. Today the Iraqi state is an official ally of the United States, yet its citizens are treated with more sus­picion than before.

Trump’s executive order would prevent Iraqi pilots from enter­ing the United States to train in military bases in Arizona. These pilots are supposed to be America’s partners in the war against ISIS.

The ban does not distinguish between Iraqis: Those who fled Iraq during the rule of Ba’ath Party; those who fled UN sanctions and US wars; those who fled sectarian bloodshed that came after 2003; those who are fleeing ISIS, Shia militias or the grip of the Kurdish peshmerga; even the Yazidis were not spared.

It is ironic that the United States provides military support to some Iraqi militias that are on US terror lists but if the victims of those very militias want to escape, America will shut its doors.

It did not matter if you loved the American people or even liked its government, you are still equated with terrorists. You could be merely a conservative Muslim, a moderate or someone who has renounced his faith altogether. If you are born in Iraq, you are going to be viewed as a potential “Islamic extremist”. No vetting needed.

Some Iraqis went to America to escape US bombs or be treated for the effects of them. They do not think that the streets there are paved with gold. To them, Ameri­can streets are paved with money from Iraq’s black gold, not to men­tion blood.

The two most worrisome out­comes of such a ban would be: Its adoption by other right-wing gov­ernments across the globe and it would further separate populations from each other at a time when people need to know each other first-hand to dispel stereotypes and hopefully reduce hatred.

On the bright side, there have been moments of unity between citizens of the blacklisted nations and Americans, as well as people from elsewhere.

The West is waking up to a threat that trumps all threats, including that of terrorism. We know that terror does not originate from one place and it has failed to alter our way of life. We also know we can­not say the same about the forces behind the travel ban.