Persecuted Christians in Iraq are being forgotten

by Nicole Russell

Although religious liberty in the United States is challenged almost daily, its authority remains real and true (at least for now). But elsewhere there is little religious freedom. In fact, Christianity is the most persecuted religion worldwide and Christians living in Iraq, where Christianity all began, are suffering most as the Islamic State seeks to obliterate them.

In March, the State Department determined ISIS has committed genocide against Christians in Syria and Iraq, but the U.S. still has done little to actually intervene. Before the U.S. invaded in 2003, about 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. After being killed or driven out, there are now only about 250,000. While refuge elsewhere entirely might be the safest course of action, many want to stay to preserve their culture and faith that dates back centuries.

Most Christian and Yazidi villages in northern Iraq have been liberated, however, the undeniable destruction and loss of life makes rebuilding a challenge. Plus there is still political tension between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. These groups still need help, in terms of funding and protection, to rebuild.

Former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who served 34 consecutive years in Congress, just returned from his fifth trip to Iraq. Now a distinguished fellow and co-founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which seeks to preserve religious liberty on a global scale, Wolf had a grave warning to American politicians who are hesitating to offer solutions to the dire situation in Iraq.

“If something bold is not done by the United States and the international community, I believe we will see the end of Christianity in the cradle of Christendom and a loss of religious and ethnic diversity throughout the region,” said Wolf, in a press release. “This could result in further destabilization across the Middle East such as the Iranian effort to establish a land bridge to Iraq, Syria and to the Mediterranean and present a threat to U.S. national security interests.”

Although President Trump tweeted about the genocide back in January, he has taken little other action, in terms of policy, to aid the situation. In fact, in June, he faced major blowback from the Christian community as several efforts to deport about 200 Christian Iraqis increased. A judge intervened, halting the deportations.

However, the Trump administration again last week acknowledged ISIS’ attempt to completely wipe out Christians in Iraq. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said ISIS is “clearly responsible for genocide” against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Shiite Muslims in Syria and elsewhere.

Wolf suggests several tangible ways to help Christians in the Middle East. One of those is implementing HR 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Accountability Act, which passed in the House in June and still needs to pass in the Senate before making progress forward. According to GovTrack, it’s got about a 40 percent chance of passing.

The bill authorizes the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to “support entities assisting minority groups in Iraq or Syria and entities that are conducting criminal investigations into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq and Syria.”

Wolf also says the U.S. should intervene in a more pointed way, viewing this as a fresh priority, keeping in mind what ISIS is capable of, by “[utilizing] contractors who are able to leave the secured compound” and pressuring the Kurdistan Regional Government “to implement constitutional reforms.”

While the political situation in Iraq remains complex and dangerous, the United States should try to help these persecuted Christians if at all possible.

Nicole Russell is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist in Washington, D.C., who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota. She was the 2010 recipient of the American Spectator’s Young Journalist Award.