El-Saher, whose music is popular throughout the Arab world, was to have made a weeklong tour with Greek star George Dalaras, starting June 3 in San Francisco, then performing in Hollywood, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Washington, D.C. Simon Shaheen, a popular Palestinian musician, was also to perform at the Radio City and Hollywood Bowl concerts. Katie Schroeder, a spokeswoman for Radio City, said El-Saher’s appearance, which was scheduled Saturday, would have been the first time an Arab musician was the star performer at the famous Manhattan theater.

El-Saher and 19 members of his band — most of whom are Iraqis — were to fly to the United States from Amman, Jordan, where their visas were cleared, said Miles Copeland, CEO of the Los Angeles-based Mondo Melodia Records, which organized the tour.

Despite last-minute intervention from U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Republican from Michigan, the additional security clearance that the State Department requires for Iraqi citizens _ including FBI and CIA checks _ did not come through for the band in time, Copeland said. Iraq is on the State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations.

“They apologized for the delay but unfortunately it was too late,” said Dawn Elder, vice president for Mondo Melodia, which on Wednesday releases El-Saher’s latest CD, “El-Hob El- Mustahil” (“The Impossible Love”), based on a famous work by the late Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Amman could not be reached for comment June 9, and a call tothe U.S. State Department’s office of consular affairs was not immediately returned.

“I can only express my deepest apologies to these artists and, indeed, to all their fans,” Copelandsaid.

Elder said, “We are trying now to reschedule Kazem and his band to play at Carnegie Hall orRadio City in September or November. He’s already booked all summer for concerts in theMiddle East.”

Shaheen, the Palestinian musician, is now scheduled to perform in Central Park with his band on June 25, Elder said. “That’ll be our chance to celebrate wonderful Arab music,” she added.

El-Saher, who moved to Lebanon after the Gulf War, divides his time between Toronto and Cairo, Egypt, where he does most of his recording. He has not been able to visit Baghdad since 1997, according to a statement by Mondo Melodia.

The United States closed its embassy in Baghdad just before the Gulf War started in early 1991, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

In September 1990, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 670, expanding the scope of sanctions to include a ban on air traffic to and from Iraq. Since then, those traveling from Baghdad usually drive to Amman, Jordan, to catch flights out.