With ISIS more-or-less cleared out of Iraq and Syria, money for rebuilding efforts is coming into the region amidst some debate as to where that money should land.
Why anyone would oppose money going to the Christians, Yazidis and others is a mystery, as it’s clear they suffered the brunt of the brutal ISIS occupation of broad swaths of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the previous administration, Secretary of State John Kerry used the term "genocide" to describe what happened to Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other religious minorities. Christians were so decimated, their religion has been said to be going “extinct” in Iraq.
But Foreign Policy magazine sees any U.S. aid going to Christians and others as a bad thing. Here, it says:
The Trump administration has decided to steer humanitarian aid funding to Christian and other minority communities in Iraq, against the advice of some officials at the State Department and others at the United Nations, who initially feared the move could backfire.
The administration, prompted in part by Vice President Mike Pence’s strong links to Christian advocacy groups, recently clashed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over how to spend aid funds in Iraq, insisting more resources be channeled to Christian communities and other minority groups in the Nineveh Plains. The administration rejected UNDP’s assessment -- and that of some officials at the State Department -- that the aid should be focused on more populated areas around the war-damaged city of Mosul. …
Since Donald Trump entered office a year ago, the issue has gotten high-level attention. Vice President Pence has spoken frequently about the importance of direct U.S. support for religious minorities in the Middle East, and current USAID Administrator Mark Green -- long an advocate for minority communities -- has made these efforts a centerpiece of his tenure.
What it comes down to, the article adds, is about $55 million in funds. But Washington’s preference toward Christians, it argues, could undercut other diplomatic efforts.
The move raised eyebrows throughout the aid community. “Taking $55 million and putting it into an area where there’s no chance that the Islamic State is going to come back doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” the Western official said. With stabilization funding -- designed to address the potential resurgence of the Islamic State -- “what you want to do is focus on the areas where they might come back,” the official told FP.
But who says ISIS couldn’t return to the Christian and Yezidi areas? Are there no voices on the other side to debate some of these conclusions?
Those places were the targets of the worst ferocity from Islamic troops who seem to feel it’s their life calling to wipe out traces of other religions. The article then points out the number of Christians took an 80 percent dive from 1.4 million to less than 250,0000 people over a 13-year period.
“These communities were hit the hardest,” said Philippe Nassif, the executive director of In Defense of Christians. “[The Islamic State] didn’t just kill people — they dug up olive groves and removed the roots of the trees. They wanted to wipe out any presence of Yazidis and Christian communities so people couldn’t come back.”
GOP congressional leaders and White House officials eventually grew frustrated at what they considered to be a slow and insufficient response from diplomats and aid workers, despite the Trump administration’s publicly stated goal of helping Christians and minorities on the ground. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill came to believe that, barring a direct legislative effort from Congress, the State Department and USAID would refuse to change course.
But why was the State Department and USAID digging in their collective heels? Are they anti-religious bigots? Pro-ISIS? Holdovers from the previous administration? Basically grumpy about changing course? We’re never told.
We’re also not reminded that Trump was talking about ISIS persecution of Christians back when he was a presidential candidate, so it's no great shock that his administration is keyed into this issue.
I was asked by The Media Project last week to research for their site an article on what was going on with this aid to religious groups and who -- Pence? Trump? The ad hoc evangelical caucus of advisors to the White House? -- is driving this train. I talked with folks from various think tanks and no one could tell me what was going on inside the State Department.
The two reporters for Foreign Policy had different and better contacts than I had, especially among former State Department people who don’t like help going to beleaguered Christians –- although they seem OK with aid going to Yazidis. The story says that Christians were in danger of getting stiffed by the State Department after eight years of getting ignored by the Obama administration and Pence was making sure that wasn’t going to happen on his watch.
No one I talked with –- nor anyone these Foreign Policy reporters talked with –- knew exactly what was happening within the State Department. The magazine's sub headline that “aid experts fear” the Trump administration’s help to Christians could backfire is alarmist. We don’t trash other countries for where their aid goes.
Why is there this huge sensitivity to the United States helping the relatives of the martyred and slain and raped? Did these editors complain when Pope Francis took the proceeds from selling his new Lamborghini to help Christians in Iraq?
I am guessing Trump people may have seen some of the material that Fox News had by Nina Shea, founder of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. Her October essay asked why U.S. aid policies in Iraq are helping Iran and hurting Yazidis and Christians.
Refugee camps are filled with ISIS sympathizers, she wrote and to expect either group to go there was ridiculous. She also said:
For all of the past three years, U.S. humanitarian aid has bypassed the Christians and short-changed the Yazidis. The Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil, which has been the sole guarantor of care for most Christian survivors of ISIS genocide, has received exactly zero of the $1.4 billion of U.S. humanitarian aid to Iraq since 2014. It chronicles a dozen times when its specific requests for aid were rejected by USAID and the State Department.
Why Foreign Policy didn’t include that detail is a mystery. Shea’s column is a must-read, as she also notes that Iran is colonizing some of the deserted Christian towns on the Nineveh plains and turning them into Muslim communities.
I wish this magazine would, with its many sources, reveal the animus within the State Department and USAID toward Christian and other religious minority groups that lies at the route of their efforts to steer aid away from them. Who is calling those shots and why? Instead of complaining about reiigion getting all the breaks, let's unveil who's blocking things on the aid level. Those are the answers many readers would want to know.