Iraqi Christian leaders praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration this week for keeping the pledge to help victims of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) genocide campaign against ethnoreligious minority groups in the Middle East.
“Our hopes are high now that this delegation will bring some changes. We especially appreciate the efforts of Vice President [Mike] Pence and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] to have them deeply involved in this situation,” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil told the Catholic News Service (CNS).
In October 2017, the Trump administration fulfilled the vice president’s promise to “stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations,” choosing instead to provide tens of millions of dollars directly through USAID to Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq.
“USAID has provided $10 million to various charities, including Catholic Relief Services [CRS] and Heartland Alliance, to help Christians and Yazidis rebuild their homes, after multitudes were killed or driven out by IS in 2014 and subsequent years. Another $25 million has been pledged for the future,” the Christian Post noted on Wednesday.
Last month, Vice President Pence said about the Trump administration’s assistance for religious minorities in the Middle East, “We made some progress here in the first seven months. Across our administration, we have already devoted $110 million to this effort but there is much more work to be done. And, we are about that work.”
Bishop Warda thanked a visiting USAID delegation led by administrator Mark Green on July 1 for visiting the Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh and other areas devastated by ISIS.
“The message they sent was important: ‘We do care.’ The American government and the Americans do care about the fate of the Christians, Yazidis and the minorities and want to help,” the Iraqi bishop declared.
Under President Trump’s watch in December 2017, Iraqi Christians were able to celebrate Christmas in and around Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, for the first time since ISIS lost its territorial caliphate.
Mosul, once considered ISIS’s largest stronghold in Iraq, is the historical homeland of the Christians in the region — long considered the cradle of Christendom. While campaigning for president, Trump, who identifies as a Presbyterian, pledged to defend Christians across the world, particularly in the Middle East.
Echoing its predecessor, the Trump administration has recognized that ISIS committed “genocide” against Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The Nineveh Plain, once home to the largest concentration of Christians and other religious minority groups in the region, is also considered the cradle of Christianity.
Although ISIS has been pushed out nearly all of Iraq into small pockets of territory in Syria, Iraqi Christians are pleading for assistance to rebuild their homes and infrastructure.
“The time should be now, and the help should be immediate and effective. Foremost, is the need to rebuild houses, so there is a community to go back to and be there,” Warda proclaimed.
Various Christian leaders and analysts have repeatedly warned that without assistance, the Christian community in Iraq will disappear.
Referring to U.S. aid, Kevin Hartigan, the CRS regional director for Europe and the Middle East, noted that the funds would “support the peaceful and successful return of minorities in Nineveh, by providing livelihood opportunities to youth from diverse returnee communities and mobilizing faith leaders to promote tolerance and reconciliation.”
“Along with the vital support we get from the Catholic community in the United States, the generous, constant and flexible funding we receive from the U.S. government has enabled CRS and Caritas Iraq to provide education and trauma healing for children, shelter and financial assistance to Iraqis of all faiths, on a large scale,” he added.