In October he said help would be on the way. So where is it?
Iraqi Yazidis outside a temple near Dohuk, Iraq, April 17. Photo: safin hamed/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
By Robert McFarlane and
Before 2003, some 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today nearly 9 in 10 are gone, thanks to chaos in the region and the murderous reign of Islamic State. The number of Yazidis, another ancient religious minority, has plummeted as well.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump rightly railed against the Obama administration for not doing enough to help. Speaking at a dinner last October, Vice President Mike Pence said change was already on the way.
“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,” Mr. Pence said. “From this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID”—the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Stirring words, but seven months later the persecuted religious communities in Iraq still haven’t received direct support. Two groups, the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee and the Catholic University in Erbil, earlier this year jointly put forward USAID proposals totaling $5 million.
For years these groups have run humanitarian efforts for the faithful of Nineveh. They intended to use the funds from USAID to help minority peoples preserve their cultures and protect their property rights. But in May the proposals were summarily denied.
USAID gave no explanation. Its rejection email said that “USAID will not be providing additional information to organizations that were not selected.” When the Iraqis wrote back with questions, they received an automated reply: The bureaucrat who had sent the rejection had gone on leave for a month.
USAID did greenlight proposals from the International Organization for Migration, a group with U.N. links. But where is the direct aid Mr. Pence promised? “While faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in these communities are more than willing to assist, the United Nations too often denies their funding requests,” Mr. Pence said last year. “My friends, those days are over.”
Except those days aren’t over. Career staff at USAID have ignored Mr. Pence’s words and thwarted the clear intent of the Trump administration. As a result, the light of Iraqi Christianity could be permanently extinguished.
The national-security implications also are substantial: If Iraq’s minority communities collapse, Iran will be even freer to exert control over the region and to consolidate a land bridge to Syria.
USAID must use whatever creativity is necessary to complete its mission and keep Mr. Pence’s pledge to Iraq’s religious minorities. The Senate should swiftly pass bipartisan legislation to authorize funding for these victimized communities. Such a bill, written by one of this op-ed’s authors, passed the House last summer and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last fall. Yet it still awaits a full Senate vote.
To ensure the survival of these beleaguered communities, to uphold U.S. national security, and to keep the Trump administration’s promise, the federal government must act—and soon—to help the Christians and Yazidis of Iraq.
Mr. McFarlane was President Reagan’s national security adviser, 1983-85. Mr. Smith, a New Jersey Republican, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that oversees international organizations.