Rebuilding with US funds, Iraq’s minority religious communities still await security
Last fall, as coalition troops broke through the last major strongholds held by the so-called Islamic State, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech to the advocacy group In Defense of Christians in Washington, D.C. In what attendees said was an unexpected move, he focused a sizable portion of his remarks on attacking United Nations efforts to assist Iraqi minority religious groups whose ancient, ancestral homes were ravaged by the militants.
“Our fellow Christians and all who are persecuted in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” Pence said. “And tonight, it is my privilege to announce that President Trump has ordered the State Department to stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations.”
Instead, Pence said, the Iraqi communities would receive support directly from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help them rebuild.
The move was celebrated by evangelical leaders in the United States, for whom the restoration of Iraq’s Christian community is a key foreign policy goal. But most parties involved say they are increasingly concerned that even the most successful rebuilding program faces a more vexing issue: security.
USAID, which has already spent approximately $700 million in humanitarian assistance for all of Iraq since 2014, unveiled a “Broad Agency Announcement” soon after Pence’s speech, expediting the process of granting funds to local nongovernmental organizations.
In December of 2017, USAID directed $6.6 million in funds for direct assistance to internally displaced people returning to Nineveh Province, where, according to The Washington Post, fewer than 200,000 Christians survive in a region that once hosted some 1.5 million. It also aided those returning to nearby Sinjar, where Yazidis have also seen their numbers dwindle, with only 500,000 left.
The State Department gave an additional $10 million specifically for Iraq’s religious minorities, the newspaper reported. A month later, USAID made a $75 million installment to the United Nations Development Program, stipulating that $55 million of it should be allotted to serve religious minorities.