Trump’s Muslim Travel ban may be causing tensions between the American and Iraqi soldiers trying to bring ISIL to heel in the city of Mosul.
The temporary travel ban issued on Jan. 27 by Trump has caused tension between U.S. and Iraqi soldiers working together in the conflict-ridden Middle East.
According to The New York Times, both officers and enlisted men working together on the front lines in Mosul felt the travel ban was an affront and dishonored the memory of fallen soldiers who have died in the battle for Mosul.
Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe told the Times that he considered himself fully vetted for entry into the U.S. Capt. Musawe commands an elite counter-terrorism force in the Iraqi army. He was trained by American officers in Iraq and Jordan and has fought against the Islamic State (ISIL) in three cities, including three brutal months in the streets of Mosul.
In a bitter retort to the Muslim travel ban issued by the Trump administration, Musawe told a Times reporter:
“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves.”
Strong words, but Capt. Musawe has a point. The two previous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, worked with and relied heavily on support from allies in Iraq, cooperating closely in both intelligence and combat.
Capt. Abdul Saami al-Azzi, is another counter-terrorism specialist from the Iraqi army who told the Times that he was hurt and disappointed by the travel ban and its lack of respect for the Iraqi soldiers that worked side by side with American forces.
“An insult to their dignity. It is really embarrassing.”
The timing could not have been worse. Iraqi forces had reached an important benchmark when the order was issued. Backed by American advisers, Special Operations forces, and U.S. led airstrikes, the Iraqi forces had taken half of Mosul and were preparing themselves to take the rest.
One Iraqi general is concerned about how the Muslim travel ban will affect morale and the willingness for the two country’s forces to work in unison. Brigadier General Mizhir Khalid al-Mashhadani told the Times:
“This decision by Trump blows up our liberation efforts of cooperation and coordination with American forces.”
Brig. Gen. Mashhadani asked his American counterparts about the travel ban and was told that they also considered their new president’s order poorly considered.
Even more confusing was the message the ban sent in light of Trump’s promises to destroy ISIL. By banning any and all Muslim travelers to the U.S., despite visa or even green card status, the order was a kick in the face after their sacrifices in Mosul.
Maj. Sabah al-Aloosi told the Times that it is the Iraqis who are sacrificing themselves in the fight against ISIL.
Although American representatives in the region say that nothing, basically, has changed, Iraqi soldiers are still nonplussed by the travel ban. In response to critical comments by the Iraqi soldiers, Col. John Dorrian, Baghdad spokesman for the U.S. operation against IS, said:
“For our part, we continue to do every single day what we’ve been doing all along in the campaign to defeat Daesh.”
Although the Pentagon made some strong recommendations to lift the ban for interpreters who’ve “tangibly demonstrated their commitment to supporting United States,” some Iraqis who hold refugee visas are barred from entry into the U.S. Some have requested those visas specifically because their aid to the U.S. has placed them in danger in their own country.
One Iraqi soldier, unidentified for security reasons, told The Guardian that he thinks the travel ban is “just racist.” The Iraqi interpreter worked with U.S. forces between 2007 and 2010, surviving eight improvised explosive device (IED) explosions and numerous death threats from fellow Iraqis for working with the U.S. He began applying for a visa in 2012 and finally received it in 2016. With ticket and visa in hand, he was told by the U.S. Embassy that he would not be permitted to board the plane. The man told the Guardian that he feels he has served both countries, and is close to the American Troops he works with:
“They were with me in the battle. We faced the same danger. We eat [off the] same plate.”
Several of the officers that spoke with the New York Times expressed their desire to visit the U.S. as tourists after the battle for Mosul was won. After all, everyone wants to go to Disney World after a big win.
Such a traumatic rift has been created that Iraq has threatened to ban U.S. citizens from entering the country in retaliation for the insult. This could throw a serious wrench into Trump’s plans for ISIL. If enacted, the ban would affect the thousands of contractors working in Iraq, as well as over 5,000 U.S. military forces deployed to the country to assist Iraqi soldiers in their reclamation of Mosul, according to Fortune magazine.
Fortune quotes Chris Harmer, senior analyst with the Institute for the Study of War:
“If Iraq were to ban U.S. citizens from traveling to Iraq it would have devastating consequences for our fight against ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. That’s just in the short term.”
Trump repeatedly shows his inability to adequately fill the role of U.S. Commander in Chief, with simplistic cowboy-style solutions to intricate problems and an inability to balance domestic concerns with international obligations. He’s already floundered his first direct action as Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, after two American soldiers — one a Navy SEAL — along with a number of women and children, were killed during a raid in Yemen.
The “poorly considered” and blindly executed Muslim travel ban may turn out to be yet another.