January 27, 2017

Iraqi prime minister may block visas to U.S. citizens? Think that over, Haydar

Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-'Abadi

In response to President Trump's temporary ban on the issuance of entry visas to anyone from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, Iraqi parliamentarians said the Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-'Abadi is considering reciprocal action that will block American citizens from entering Iraq.

Take a deep breath, siyadat al-ra'is Haydar, and think about this.

Without the U.S.-led coalition, you have very little chance of expelling the forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from your country. Yes, you need those American citizens - most in uniform - whose airpower, artillery, special operations, intelligence, logistics, front line "advise and assist" troops, etc. allow your military and police units to succeed on the battlefield.

Here endeth the lesson.

A personal anecdote: This exchange reminds me of a rather humorous situation that arose while I was serving as the air attache at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria in the 1990's.

Anyone who has served at American embassies in the Middle East is familiar with the non-stop requests for visas to enter the United States - this was particularly true in Syria. Syrians who have received visas to enter the United States had (and probably still do) one of the highest over-stay ratings - they simply didn't return to Syria.

The visa application line at the consular section of the embassy, which was also the designated venue for Iranians seeking visas to the United States, was always very long, often extending hundreds of yards on the sidewalks and small streets around the embassy. It made getting to work a challenge at times, and parking a nightmare.

At one point, the Syrians became concerned about the potential security, safety and traffic congestion issues caused by the throngs of people waiting to take their turn at being rejected for a visa. They summoned the ambassador to the foreign ministry and told him that the situation was unacceptable and he needed to address it.

The U.S. ambassador at the time, Christopher Ross, was a career Foreign Service Officer and long-time Middle East specialist, having spent many of his formative years in Lebanon. He was an extremely effective ambassador, as well as a great mentor to his staff (me included).

Ambassador Ross asked Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara' how the Syrian embassy in Washington was dealing with its visa line issues.