Keeping Iraq Off Travel Ban List Helps Anti-ISIS Fight: General

Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend (Army Photo by Courtesy)
Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend (Army Photo by Courtesy)

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said Wednesday that keeping Iraq off the travel ban list in President Donald Trump's next executive order would eliminate potential friction between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the fight against ISIS.

Responding to reports that Trump would take Iraq off the list of seven predominantly Muslim countries subject to a travel ban, Townsend noted the close relationship U.S. and Iraqi forces have developed in the long struggle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and said, "We can't let anything disrupt or distract us from that."

"I would prefer, personally, not to see anything that would reflect on that," Townsend, commander of Combined Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon.

In Washington, The Associated Press and others reported that Trump would remove Iraq from the list of countries -- Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- that were originally subject to a 90-day travel ban under an executive order issued in late January.

The original order led to mass confusion at airports and was later stayed by the courts. Trump had been expected to issue a new executive order Wednesday to get around the legal issues, but the White House said that the announcement would be delayed.

In his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, Trump said, "We will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep out those who would do us harm."

When Trump issued the first order, Pentagon officials began looking into the possibility of exemptions for Iraqi interpreters and contractors who had worked closely with U.S. troops.

The issue became moot when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the order, but not before members of Iraq's parliament began calling for retaliation against the U.S.

In his briefing, Townsend said the reaction to the initial executive order from members of the Iraqi Security Forces he deals with daily "was actually pretty muted and pretty level-headed and sophisticated. They are military people, like me, and by and large they said, 'We have a war to fight. That's political business, not our concern.' "

However, "they were relieved when the executive order was suspended," he said. Townsend also noted that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, despite urgings from his parliament, refused to take any reciprocal action against the U.S. in response to Trump.

Townsend was reluctant to be drawn into commenting on political matters, but made clear that he would be greatly concerned by any actions that threatened his working relationship with the ISF.

"Iraq is our partner, an ally -- if not a treaty ally -- an ally in the fight against ISIS. This nation is fully mobilized in this war alongside of us," he said. "They are protecting us here. We're fighting this enemy that threatens all our countries."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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