BY NIRAJ WARIKOO /FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Iraq’s Christian population should soon get $10 million in federal funding under a measure that is expected to be signed into law this month. The allocation, prompted inÂ part by advocacy from metro Detroiters, is believed to be the first earmark specifically for Iraq’s Christian communities.
The measure, part of the spending bill that Congress passed this week, cites a “threat to the existence of Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities, particularly the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians, who are confronting ethno-religious cleansing in Iraq.”
It was welcome news for Michigan’s Iraqi Christian population, which the U.S. census numbers at about 30,000.
Those residents have grown increasingly concerned about the fate of their brethren in Iraq, who comprise one of the oldest communities in the world. Many have been forced to flee Iraq because of rising Islamic extremism.
The measure earmarks $8 million to help Iraqi Christians in the Nineveh plain region who are displaced inside Iraq, and $2 million for microfinance programs.
“This is a good first step, but we still have a long way to go,” said Martin Manna, head of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, a metro Detroit group.
The chamber was one of four Iraqi-American organizations that joined this year to form the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America, based in Farmington Hills. It lobbied on behalf of Iraqi Christians.
“This is a major victory for our people, who are very deserving of this help,” said Jackie Bejan, executive director of the council.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Detroit Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, a Bloomfield Township Republican, were among lawmakers helpful in getting the earmark, advocates said.
“The plight of the Iraqi Christians is one all Americans should understand but hits close to home here in southeast Michigan,” said Knollenberg, a senior member of the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee.
“Many of our Chaldean neighbors in Michigan have family and friends struggling in Iraq, and this bill will go a long way towards helping them.”