USCIRF Letter to President Obama on Upcoming Meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sent the following letter to President Obama on October 30, 2013:

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), we respectfully urge you to use your upcoming meeting to press Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to do more to protect the human rights of every Iraqi, including the right to religious freedom regardless of religion or sect.

As you know, over the past year Iraq has experienced the worst sectarian violence since 2008, with the frequency and scope of such violence increasing. This violence is undermining Iraq’s progress and threatening its people’s safety, particularly the majority Shi’a Muslim population, as well as its smallest religious minority communities, including Christians and Yezidis. The violence also appears to be spreading into areas of northern Iraq that had been previously safer and had become places of refuge for religious minorities. Regrettably, the government of Iraq has been unable to stop sectarian attacks from occurring and often lacks the will to investigate attacks and bring perpetrators to justice. This has created a climate of impunity and a perpetual sense of fear for all religious communities, particularly the smallest ones. The actions of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s government have also exacerbated the feelings of exclusion and discontent among the country’s Sunni population through political marginalization and prosecutions of Sunni leaders. In addition, the dispute between the central government and Kurdish parties over territory in the north has led to human rights abuses, particularly against the smallest minorities in those areas.

U.S.-Iraqi cooperation under the Strategic Framework Agreement includes cooperation “to promote Iraq’s efforts in the field of . . . human rights.” If Iraq is to become a stable democracy, its government must make greater efforts to ensure that the human rights and religious freedoms of all Iraqis are guaranteed and enforced equally in law and practice, without regard to religion or sect. In your meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki, we hope that you will stress to him the vital importance of reducing sectarian tensions in Iraq and protecting freedom of religion. We also hope that you will press him, and offer U.S. assistance as appropriate, to increase efforts to

provide security to likely targets of religiously-motivated violence and investigate and prosecute perpetrators consistent with due process of law. Finally, we hope that you will discuss the need for the protection of minority rights and freedoms in the disputed territories.

We hope you agree that discussing the problems of sectarian tensions, violence, and human rights abuses in Iraq with Prime Minister al-Maliki is essential. Without addressing these concerns, religious freedom in Iraq will continue to erode and the country will not have the peaceful, democratic future that its people deserve and the United States seeks to encourage.

Thank you for considering our request.


Robert P. George
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner please contact Kalinda Stephenson at 202-786-0613 or