Words are not enough — US must support Christians who survived genocide in Iraq
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Though it was never intentional, Christians in Iraq have suffered from U.S. action — and inaction — there, and the few who still remain represent a sort of living “collateral damage.”

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During the 2003 invasion, Iraqi Christians were often simultaneously viewed as Iraqis by the Americans, and as suspect “co-religionists” of the enemy by their neighbors. Such suspicion resulted in many Christian church bombings, and the kidnapping and murder of priests and lay people alike.

 

When the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011, the plight of Christians worsened. Al-Qaeda morphed first into the Islamic State of Iraq and then into ISIS. Persecution metastasized into genocide.

The country’s Christian population has plummeted to about 200,000 from about 1.5 million in 2003.

Now, as the traditional Christian homeland of the Nineveh Plain is being liberated, America may have its last opportunity to support pluralism and minority religious groups in Iraq.

Despite the liberation of their former towns, they cannot return without real security. Even then, there may be no home for them to return to since these towns suffered terrible damage in the fighting.

In the best case scenario, rebuilding would take months or years, and enormous amounts of money.

And in addition to a lack of money, internal and regional political developments now threaten the future of Christians — and other indigenous, non-majority groups — as well.

America’s lack of financial support for those who survived ISIS’ genocide is shocking.

Half of the Christians remaining in Iraq now live just 50 miles east of Mosul in the Archdiocese of Erbil. Most are refugees from Nineveh.

They are supported entirely by the Archdiocese, which also assists many Yazidis. Of the tens of millions of dollars spent, all of it is from private sources, like the Knights of Columbus and the Italian Bishops Conference. The Archdiocese of Erbil has received no money from the United States or Iraqi governments, or from the United Nations.

The genocide started by ISIS, thus continues through attrition because of governmental or bureaucratic inaction.

The United States can do better. With billions of dollars having been spent by the American government in Iraq, a few million could easily be allocated to those who have lost everything but their faith, for their faith. They are victims of genocide and their communities risk disappearing forever.

Money isn’t the only problem.

Christians feel increasingly unwelcome in their own country due to actions by both Turkey and Baghdad.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said in a televised interview that Mosul should be inhabited only by “Sunni Arabs, Sunni Kurds, and Sunni Turkmen.” Though directed mostly at Shiite groups, his lack of concern or acknowledgment of Christians and Yazidis did not go unnoticed, nor did it bode well for these groups.

Now, the Obama administration is publicly pushing Iraq to allow Turkey’s involvement in the battle for Mosul, despite Baghdad’s objections, but it has been silent on Turkey’s proposal for the building of a Sunni-only enclave, which sounds eerily similar to ISIS’ plan for the region.

And just last week, the Iraqi parliament passed a proposal to prohibit alcohol. This is quite serious. Wine is essential to Catholic liturgy, without it, there can be no Masses.

Words and actions like these show clearly that those who hold non-majority religious beliefs are not welcome in Iraq. America’s silence abets these actions.

Both Baghdad and Ankara receive much U.S. support. But when it comes to protecting the rights of groups like Christians and Yazidis, the Obama administration seems unwilling to use its influence.

This year, United States — in a declaration by Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBringing the American election experience to Democratic Republic of the Congo Some Dems sizzle, others see their stock fall on road to 2020 The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE, and in unanimous resolutions by the House and Senate — declared that ISIS engaged in “genocide” against Christians and other indigenous religious groups.

We applauded that statement. It was accurate and important. But the words must be followed with action.

The United States must insist that Christians — and other non-majority groups — are given full and equal rights, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This must include the right to return to their homes in Mosul and Nineveh. If the United State deems support for Turkey’s role in the fight against ISIS important, such support should be contingent on Turkey’s support for pluralism.

The United States should also demand the repeal of laws that make minority religious communities feel unwelcome and drive them to leave, continuing the genocide of attrition.

No further aid should be sent to Iraq until pluralism is respected because this kind of second-class citizenship for Christians and Yazidis helped create an environment in which genocide was possible.

Without equal rights, and without sufficient aid — the kind the American government could provide — the Christian population of Iraq will continue to decline and those communities that survived a genocide could disappear altogether.

American inaction is simply not acceptable. The Obama administration could begin to salvage its legacy in Iraq by turning this inequity around. And there is reason to be hopeful that the incoming Trump administration might prioritize Christians and other genocide survivors. We encourage them to do so.

Over the next few weeks, United States will shape both the future of pluralism in Iraq and America’s own legacy there. The two are intertwined. Let us hope that America will get it right.

Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus. Most Rev. Bashar Warda is the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq.


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