Help Is on the Way for Middle Eastern Christians
When Islamic State captured the Iraqi town of Telskuf four years ago this week, terrorists desecrated the local Chaldean Catholic church and beheaded congregants on the altar. The slaughter was only one episode from the genocide ISIS waged on Christians and other vulnerable religious groups across its so-called caliphate, nearly exterminating some of the region’s most ancient faith communities.
The U.S. stands with the persecuted religious and ethnic communities of the Middle East. And the federal government won’t rest until these oppressed people receive the help they need to thrive again. That’s the message I will deliver personally to Christian and Yazidi leaders when I visit Iraq this month. On behalf of President Trump, I will assure them that American assistance will soon turn from an inconsistent trickle into a steady stream.
President Trump already has directed U.S. armed forces to finish the fight against the ISIS barbarians, and today the group no longer holds territory in Iraq. But as Vice President Pence said at this year’s religious broadcasters convention, “Victory in combat is only half the battle.” The president directed his administration last October to end its support for United Nations programs that fail to provide aid for every group in need. Now, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which I lead, is charged with providing more effective and direct support to persecuted religious and ethnic minorities.
Four days after Vice President Pence announced the shift, I directed USAID to develop aid projects that address the challenges facing Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups in the region. To this end, USAID has redirected more than $60 million in humanitarian and stabilization assistance to provide infrastructure support and lifesaving aid in Northern Iraq. The money has helped rebuild schools, hospitals, power stations and wells, and eased the transition of those returning home.
In too many cases, however, assistance has taken too long to arrive. We have yet to reach many of the communities with the greatest need. Decisions made by the previous administration, such as an overreliance on the U.N. and an inadequate appreciation for the work accomplished by faith-based organizations, have proved hard to overcome. And the often rigid processes of federal bureaucracy have slowed implementation further.
At the direction of the president and vice president, USAID is now redoubling its effort to swiftly deliver and distribute the aid that Iraq’s persecuted religious communities desperately need. The delays must end, and they will.
Every day of delay brings persecuted communities that much closer to extinction. In Iraq alone, nearly 90% of Christians have fled in the past 15 years, emptying entire villages that had stood for more than a thousand years. The Yazidi population has been similarly decimated. Without immediate additional support, these groups may be forced to continue their unprecedented exodus, perhaps never to return to their ancient homes.
After my visit to Iraq, I will present President Trump with a comprehensive assessment of any roadblocks that prevented the speedy distribution of aid. I also will provide a detailed plan to expedite the delivery of crucial assistance to the most vulnerable communities.
Congress also has a crucial role to play. A more flexible budget and eased regulations would make USAID more effective in fulfilling its mission. And organizations across the federal government must continue working with Iraq to increase its order and stability, which are essential to the delivery of American aid.
The time to act is now. Christians, Yazidis and other persecuted religious communities in the Middle East have suffered unspeakable harm for too long. Their plight has touched the hearts of the American people and stirred this nation to step up with compassion and conviction. President Trump promised to provide them with the help they need to rebuild their communities and restore their hope, and we will work tirelessly to break down any barrier that stands in the way.
The ancient faith communities in Iraq and across the Middle East are counting on us. We will not let them down.
Mr. Green is USAID administrator.
Appeared in the June 14, 2018, print edition.