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Iraq to oppose U.S. travel curbs, keen to work together against Islamic State

By Maher Chmaytelli, Isabel Coles and Ahmed Rasheed

By Maher Chmaytelli, Isabel Coles and Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD/MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq will lobby against new travel limits to the United States by Iraqis, arguing both countries need to uphold their fight against Islamic State (IS), Iraqi parliamentarians said on Sunday.

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.

The order stirred angry reactions in Iraq, where more than 5,000 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. SUPPORT AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE

The U.S.-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 splits the city, and were girding for an onslaught on the jihadists on the western bank.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi who worked four years as a translator for U.S. 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 U.S. forces after he tipped them off about a house where insurgents were making car bombs in Mosul. He said that while employed by the Americans, he saved the life of a serviceman after U.S. troops came under militant attack in Mosul.

"My life is (now) in danger," said the translator, who spoke in eastern Mosul and asked not to be identified or photographed. He told Reuters 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 U.S. Special Immigrant Visa program designed for those employed by the U.S. military and U.S. civilian agencies until their withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

"Please, please, please get me out of this country," he said.

"There are currently fewer than 500 Iraqis in the SIV pipeline," said a State Department official. Overall, "more than 20,000 Iraqis have received immigrations benefits" from this program, he added.

Among the Iraqis barred from traveling to the U.S. over the past 48 hours was Fuad Sharef's family, who embarked on the trip after selling their home and quitting their jobs and their school.

The parents and their three children were barred on Saturday from boarding a connecting flight in Cairo to New York.

Speaking by phone from Cairo airport, Sharef said the family was still in shock for having been detained there, their passports confiscated and being forced to go back to Iraq.

(With assistance by Arwa Gaballa and Eric Knecht in Cairo; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

 

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