Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.
The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.
"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."
Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered.
"They are in charge of setting up processes in their country. They have to educate themselves about how it works in this country," Silverman said.
Silverman did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday seeking comment, and it was not clear whether the group had run into trouble elsewhere on their tour.
But the delegates seemed in good spirits Monday, after they were able meet with Carol Chumney, the city council member, elsewhere. Shahla Waliy, a 31-year-old native of Baghdad, said she was intrigued by the city's civil rights history.
"I heard there was a kind of majority-minority conflict in Memphis, especially in history," she said. "We have these smaller provinces, and we have majority-minority conflicts in these places."
That'll teach 'em about civil rights, and how to run a proper democracy!