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The Iraqis who feel betrayed by America

A masked interpreter, left, patrols the streets of Baghdad with a US Army unit.
Tom A. Peter | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images
A masked interpreter, left, patrols the streets of Baghdad with a US Army unit.

Sarkawt Shams left Iraq for the US on a special immigrant visa in 2013 when he felt the risk to his life was too great.

During his four years working for the US consulate in Baghdad and Erbil, Mr Shams would go to great lengths on his commute to avoid detection.

His parents had finalised their visas to join him in Washington and were weeks away from taking their flights. His wife of two years was preparing for her final visa interview in March.

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"She was crying all night," Mr Shams says, describing his wife's reaction to Donald Trump's temporary ban on US entry for seven Muslim-majority nations. "I cannot leave and she cannot join me . . . all we can do is dream."

The ban has affected hundreds of Iraqis who worked for the US government and intelligence services. "The risks for these people are really high. They will be targeted," says Mr Shams, an Iraqi Kurd. "This really is a matter of life or death."

Mr Shams has been told that travelling to Iraq will invalidate his permanent residence status, but "I'm not going to leave my wife or my family behind", he says. "Even if I have to risk my life, I have to go back."

"I risked my life for the sake of the United States of America and my colleagues there. They brought me back here and I am grateful for that. But my feelings today are that you can't keep taking from me and not give anything back." -Iraqi soldier

One Iraqi soldier now working for the military in the US, says his parents — who have immigration visas but are waiting for their green cards — are now in limbo.

His had planned to shuttle to and from Iraq, where they have a relative who has suffered a stroke, but now fear their re-entry would be blocked. The soldier also fears that his brother and sister's asylum applications will fail.

"I risked my life for the sake of the United States of America and my colleagues there. They brought me back here and I am grateful for that," he says. "But my feelings today are that you can't keep taking from me and not give anything back."

The abrupt executive order has also left immigrants and foreign US residents stranded at airports around the world.

Ibrahim Dujaili, an Iraqi with Belgian citizenship, spent €4,000 trying to secure passage for his family to visit his ill mother-in-law in the US.

When they tried to board a flight from London to Dallas, an official told them that Iraqis were banned, including their two children who only carry Belgian nationality.

Social media has hummed with similar stories of people being hauled off planes or being prevented returning to the US while in transit.

At Dubai airport, Emirates Airline says it was helping a small number of stranded passengers to secure refunds or passage to other countries.

Critics claim that hundreds of thousands of people in the regional commercial centre of the United Arab Emirates could be affected by the travel ban, disrupting business operations.

Iranians could also be hit hard by the measures. There are an estimated 1m Iranian-Americans, many of whom left their home country after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but kept strong bonds with family in their country of birth.

To protest against the ban, film star Taraneh Alidoosti announced she would boycott the Oscars in Los Angeles on February 26, where the Iranian film Salesman is nominated for the academy's best foreign film award.

The ban particularly affects Iranian students in the US who cannot risk leaving to visit their families.

"If I'm allowed to continue my education, it means my family can no longer come and see me and I don't dare to go home and see them," said Nazi, 23, a student studying music in Virginia.

"The ban means I will miss my only sister's wedding. It's so depressing."

By Erika Solomon in Beirut, Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Simeon Kerr in Dubai