Iraqi government ‘deeply relieved’ at US travel ban exemption

Iraqi government ‘deeply relieved’ at US travel ban exemption
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed relief that it has been exempted from the US travel ban on six majority-Muslim countries, amid reports that President Donald Trump is due to sign a new version of the controversial order on Monday.

President Trump is expected to sign a new executive order banning citizens of six Muslim-majority nations – Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States for an initial period of 90 days, Reuters reported. The list of countries initially included Iraq, which has was removed after the Iraqi government put more stringent vetting measures in place, including more comprehensive visa screening and data sharing with the United States.

“The Iraqi Foreign Ministry expresses a deep relief at the executive decision of the US President, Donald Trump, which includes an exemption on Iraqis from the travel ban to the United States of America. The decision is an important step in the right direction, it consolidates the strategic alliance between Baghdad and Washington in many fields, and at their forefront the war on terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal said in a statement.

The country was also taken off the list to recognize Iraqi efforts in battling Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Thousands of Iraqis have fought side-by-side with or worked as translators for American soldiers since the invasion of 2003, with many having to flee after receiving threats. Two generals, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom are veterans of the Iraq conflict, reportedly persuaded Trump that a travel ban would hinder cooperation on fighting IS on the ground in Iraq, and failed to take into consideration the sacrifices the Iraqi people have made.

The initial travel ban, which was issued on January 27, caused indignation in Iraq, where Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had to deny a request from his own parliament to reciprocate and ban US citizens, typically oil contractors, from entering the country.

The new executive order will come with a few extra clauses. It will not affect the thousands of green card holders from the six countries who are already in the United States legally, anonymous White House officials told Reuters and AP. The order will also lift the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, although they are still subject to the same restrictions as those from the other five countries.

The Department of Homeland Security is to work with the Trump Administration to determine a new set of requirements for the barred countries. In the meantime, other exemptions will be listed, such as those for medical or business reasons, family ties, or support for the US. Exemptions for persecuted minorities, however, which has been seen as code for allowing in Christians, will be removed, officials told AP.

There’s been no official confirmation on the new ban from the White House as of yet. At a press briefing last Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that work on a new executive order was being delayed pending consultations with federal agencies.

In January, Trump signed an executive order barring the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, prompting large protests across the country, as well as a number of lawsuits. The executive order was put on hold by a judge in early February after it was challenged in a Seattle district court. Following the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security stopped flagging travelers from the blacklisted countries.