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Iraqi leader to U.S.: Americans come to Iraq to fight with ISIS, but I haven’t banned you

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi speaks in Baghdad on Jan. 31. He called the U.S. visa ban an “insult.” (Sabah Arar/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday that a ban preventing his citizens from visiting the United States was an "insult" but that barring Americans in retaliation could hurt national interests during the war against the Islamic State.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave a measured response in his first public comments since Iraq was included on a list of seven Muslim-majority countries in President Trump’s executive order restricting immigration.

Abadi said he was looking for ways to "reduce the damage" from the decision. He said he would not enforce an equal ban on Americans, an option the Iraqi parliament had supported in a vote Monday.

“We are in the middle of a battle,” he said.

More than 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, where they are backing Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State. The visa ban has shaken relations between the two countries as they draw close to defeating the militant group in Mosul, the last major city it controls in Iraq.

Who is affected by Trump’s travel ban

The number of people affected by Trump’s travel ban: About 90,000

The restrictions have increased pressure on Abadi, who is being pushed to act in retaliation to the ban but is beholden to U.S. military support.

Abadi pointed out that it is unfair to tar with the same brush the entire population of a nation.

“There are Americans fighting with” the Islamic State, he said. “I can’t say because of that all Americans are terrorists. Each country has good and bad people.”

It echoed comments made a day earlier by Iraq’s foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, who added that no Iraqis have been responsible for acts of terrorism on U.S. soil. Other countries whose nationals have been involved in attacks, such as Saudi Arabia, have escaped the ban, which has been imposed for 90 days while the Trump administration makes assessments. Refugee processing has been suspended for 120 days.

The move caused chaos at airports as those with valid visas were turned back. Some Iraqi families who had sold all their possessions after being approved for resettlement were told they could not travel.

Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Read more:

Denied Entry: Stories of refugees and immigrants barred from the U.S.

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