IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi officials on Monday praised the Trump administration’s decision to exclude Iraq from a list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens will be temporarily banned from entering the United States, calling it an acknowledgment of their nation’s unique role in the struggle against global extremism.
A previous ban had prompted widespread anger and disbelief in Iraq, a country destabilized by cycles of conflict since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and a front-line battlefield in the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
A revised executive order signed by President Trump on Monday imposes a 90-day ban on the issuance of new visas to citizens of Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Libya, citing national security concerns, but it called Iraq “a special case.”
Despite the continued presence of the Islamic State in the country, the order said, other factors justified Iraq’s exclusion from the list, including close cooperation between Baghdad and Washington, as well as “the significant presence of United States forces in Iraq.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that Trump and the Iraqi leader had discussed the ban in a telephone call several weeks ago and that the U.S. president had promised to review Iraq’s status. The decision on Monday “showed an appreciation for the partnership with Iraq in fighting terrorism” and would speed up the fight against the Islamic State, the spokesman said.
The relief in Iraq was in sharp contrast to the criticism of the revised order from human rights groups, which derided it as effectively a ban on Muslims as well as refugees and their advocates. The order suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days.
The order “heartlessly targets the most vetted and most vulnerable population to enter the United States,” David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, which resettles refugees in the United States, said in a statement.
“This ban doesn’t target those who are the greatest security risk, but those least able to advocate for themselves. Instead of making us safer, it serves as a gift for extremists who seek to undermine America,” he said.
The Trump administration says the ban is critical to public safety, and officials asserted Monday that the revised order would eliminate the chaos at airports worldwide that accompanied the initial executive order issued in January.
Mohamed Gabr, a Syrian refugee who lives with his family in Cairo and said he was supposed to be resettled in New Jersey before the initial ban, was still waiting to hear from his resettlement agency about when — and if — his family would be able to travel.
“My condition is intolerable. For a year and eight months, we have been stuck here. For two months, I have been told to wait,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty about their future, Gabr and his wife, Lamis el-Hamawi, said they were happy that the executive order had been narrowed, if only slightly.
“We wish the Iraqis all the best,” Hamawi said. “They are just like us, they faced the same horrors. We don’t see any difference between us and them. We don’t hate or discriminate.”
“They do,” she said, referring to U.S. officials. “But we don’t.”
The revised executive order comes as the United States is stepping up its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, including by sending hundreds of military advisers to front-line positions with Iraqi security forces wrestling for control of the northern city of Mosul.
The original White House ban was seen as especially egregious by Iraqi troops and commanders representing units that have suffered heavy losses in the grinding fight for Mosul.
“It showed no appreciation at all for the sacrifices of Iraqis in fighting terrorism,” said Lt. Gen. Sami al-Aridhi, commander of the second division of Iraq’s U.S.-trained counterterrorism forces. “It had a negative impact on the psyche and morale of fighters, especially for the special forces, because we deal directly and closely with the Americans,” he said.
On Monday, some of the resentment abated, Aridhi said, adding that he hoped to visit the United States someday, when the fight against the Islamic State has ended, “and enter the country with respect: as an Iraqi who fought against terrorism consistently since 2003.”
Heba Mahfouz in Cairo and Louisa Loveluck in Beirut contributed to this report.