Iraqi Christians attend a mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh / Getty Images
BY: Jeffrey Cimmino
Persecuted Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities have not received aid from the United States Agency for International Development after it was promised by Vice President Mike Pence last year.
USAID has rejected funding for projects intended to support suffering Christians in the country, Fox News reports. Other proposals are slowly making their way through USAID bureaucracy.
Pence told an October 2017 conference hosted by the nonprofit In Defense of Christians that the State Department would work directly with persecuted Christian communities in order to bypass United Nations’ relief efforts, which the administration perceived as ineffective.
“The United States will work hand in hand with faith-based groups,” Pence said, “and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith.” He continued, “This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”
Despite Pence’s announcement, Iraqi religious minorities continue to await aid.
Archbishop Bashar Warda, a Chaldean Catholic and Archbishop of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, told the National Catholic Register that he is astonished by “the degree to which it is seemingly acceptable in the U.S. and the West to continually ignore the existential needs of an our ancient civilization and people.”
Although Pence’s message made it clear that America is paying attention to the plight of persecuted Iraqi minorities, Warda noted it had the unintended effect of diminishing aid from private donors.
He said Pence’s speech “left the impression that the U.S. was ready to actually fund our efforts directly after over three years of leaving us on our own. Unfortunately, this impression left most of our key donors to wind down their assistance and move on to other areas of need.”
The Iraqi Christian Human Rights Council tweeted its gratitude for the current administration’s relief efforts, saying “Pence has done more for Iraqi Christians than previous 2 admins.” It added, however, that aid from the United Nations Development Program has not reached Iraqi Christians.
Iraq’s historic Christian population has decreased significantly over the past fifteen years. Prior to 2003, there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Estimates place the current population at under 250,000.
Warda described the situation in stark terms at an event hosted by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
“Following more than 1900 years of existence in Mesopotamia, we Christians of Iraq now find ourselves on the very edge of extinction,” he said.