By Mohamed Abdel Azim
Fouad Salman risked his life for America. In the years following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq he worked on Washington-backed projects to rebuild his country.
At the time, his life was threatened by al-Qaeda and sympathisers of the former regime. Now, a decade on, his enemies have changed their name but would still seek to punish him with death for what they see as his treachery.
His story is just one of many dreams that were crushed by a stroke of a pen, but the implications of Donald Trump’s new approach go far beyond the individual level.
At least 7,000 Iraqis, many of them interpreters for the US military, have settled in the United States under the famous Special Immigration Visas (SIV) auspices since 2008, while some 500 more are being processed, State Department figures show. Another 58,000 Iraqis have been awaiting interviews under the DAP (Direct Access Program) for US-affiliated Iraqis, according to the International Refugee Assistance Project.
Fouad, his wife and two daughters aged 10 and 17, and a son aged 19, spent two years obtaining US visas, and had packed up their lives ahead of moving to America, but they were turned back to Iraq when they attempted to board a connecting flight to America from Cairo.
Fifty-two year old Fouad compares Trump’s executive order, suspending the entry of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days, to the politics of Saddam Hussein: “I believe it’s a terrible error in the United States, a terrible error in the history of the United States. I don’t know… I thought America was a democracy. I see like… autocracy, someone signs an order and it becomes effective immediately, what does this mean? It is just like Saddam Hussein’s decisions. Yeah, without going through Congress, without going back… I don’t understand,” underlines Fouad.
Fouad, an employee of a pharmaceutical company before leaving Iraq, but had worked on projects funded by US organisations such as USAID in the years following the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. His family applied for a US visa in September 2014 as security conditions in Iraq deteriorated, with ISIL insurgents seizing swathes of the country and carrying out mass killings. His work with the United States made him particularly vulnerable to attack by militants who viewed him as a traitor.
Years of security checks
President Trump said barring travelers from the seven nations for at least 90 days would give his administration time to develop more stringent screening procedures for refugees, immigrants and visitors. But for Fouad, the policy does not make sense. “I had to wait one year for a security check. They spent one year checking my background and didn’t find anything, any point that makes me a threat to the United States of America or the people of the United States of America,’‘ he said. He applied to emigrate via a programme known as Special Immigrant Visa, which has been created by US lawmakers to help the tens of thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives helping Americans after the 2003 invasion.
‘I don’t understand how he signed such an order, and for me personally I have prepared for this journey and this immigration for two years. I sold my house, I sold my properties. The most annoying thing that I feel guilty about … my kids left their school. So one whole year will have been wasted, I don’t know what to say.’ (…) ‘‘My visa is valid until 12th of May 2017. Is this my fault? Donald Trump does not trust his own employees, his staff? What does he say about this? What does this mean? Is it a forgery? This is from the embassy in Baghdad,” says Fouad who shows the family passports.
After the ban, what next?
While liberating Mosul from ISIL fighters, Iraqis are perceiving the ban as a new major change in US relations. The Iraqi parliament has voted to respond if America’s travel ban preventing Iraqis from entering the United States continues.
In Moscow, the Russia-backed Syrian opposition figure Qadri Jamil called the US travel ban announced by President Donald Trump “ridiculous”. Qadri Jamil of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation said Trump imposed the travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim majority countries, including Syria, “without studying the reasons” behind the refugee crisis in the countries.
The United Nations denounced Trump’s travel ban as “mean-spirited” and illegal, arguing that “discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law”. But in late December 2016, Donald Trump said the UN is “just a club for people to have a good time” and warned that when he takes office “things would be different”.
Nevertheless, the ban is just one element in Trump’s proposed transformation of US policy in the Middle East.
Last week, he reiterated that he does not intend to go back on his campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: “You know that I am not a person who breaks promises.”
Such a decision would carry enormous symbolism across the region and could be compared in its significance to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, when the British government declared its support for creating a Jewish state in Palestine.
The implications of, from a Palestinian perspective turning back the clock on decades of hard-fought and hard-negotiated progress, will be felt across the world.
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