Months after Pence promise, Iraqi Christians say they are 'worse off'

Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil (REUTERS)

Seven months after Vice President Pence vowed to stop funding “ineffective” United Nations-led recovery efforts in northern Iraq and provide U.S. support directly to persecuted Christians and other minorities who suffered ISIS-directed genocide, and are now struggling to reclaim their homes, much of the promised additional U.S. support has not appeared.

Although the beneficiaries have not yet been named, some of the most direly afflicted Christian groups, embedded in the region for nearly two millenia, say they have already been told by USAID that projects they submitted for financing have been vetoed, without explanation.

Many of the Christian churches in the Nineveh Plain in Northern Iraq were defaced or completely decimated by ISIS. (Courtesy Knights of Colombus)

The rejected proposals were aimed at providing jobs and economic security, and also the means of cultural survival, for the ancient communities, whose numbers are eroding as the lack of assistance forces them to leave Iraq in order to survive.

Meantime, private-sector donations that the Christian organizations had previously relied on have apparently dried up, as donors assumed U.S. assistance would be quickly forthcoming.

As Archbishop Bashar Warda, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northerly, Kurdish area of Erbil, told Fox News: “We are left with still many thousands of families to care for and services to provide, and not a penny with which to do it. In this sense, we are worse off now than we were two years ago.”

“The only support for these displaced people comes from the church, and now it seems everyone is turning away from us.”

Christianity is edging closer to extinction in Iraq, where many ancient documents and artifacts have been destroyed or defaced. (The Associated Press)

Archbishop Warda’s church relief organization has often been the sole pillar of support for some 60,000 brutalized Christians—in a region that once held upwards of one million—who fled waves of murder, rape, displacement and plunder inflicted by ISIS, and the ensuing war to dislodge the Islamic extremists.

His new cries of dismay are a pointed reminder that political promises, even those of a vice president, are subsequently filtered through stodgy and often recalcitrant layers of bureaucracy.

These have the final say, despite assurances in January from the White House and USAID, two months after Pence’s initial avowal, that assistance would speedily be focused on Iraq’s battered and deprived minorities, including through newly reprogrammed and highly supervised efforts by the U.N.

The continued reliance on the U.N., which already contradicted Pence’s initial promise, was seen months ago by U.S. officials as a necessary compromise: U.N. organizations, already on the ground in Iraq, were still believed to be the fastest and most efficient way to deliver aid to the minorities that had been, as one USAID official delicately put it, “overlooked” previously, mostly by the U.N. itself.

In fact, numerous exposes have documented U.N. neglect was far more widespread than accidental, ostensibly the outcome of high-minded aid policies that claimed to be uninfluenced by religious status or minority identity—exactly the characteristics, in other words, of those most savagely repressed by ISIS.

Due in part to extensive U.N. collaboration with Iraqi government officials and other majority-Muslim interest groups, U.N. reconstruction efforts almost entirely favored a majority of returning Muslims who had fled the same conflicts, and Christian properties were often handed over to their majority neighbors.

Christians fear their future in Iraq as funding dries up and promises fall short (Fox News/Hollie McKay)

One of the rejected proposals from Archbishop Warda’s Catholic University of Erbil, jointly submitted with an organization of Iraq’s equally persecuted non-Christian Yazidi minority, specifically called for the creation of “a property rights program to protect minority…property rights against illegal seizures in the post-ISIS period.”