WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “The Kurds have been great, really, in a region that has been fraught with difficulty on religious freedom,” Amb. Sam Brownback, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, told Kurdistan 24.
“They really have been an island in a sea of difficulty, and I applaud them for their efforts,” he said.
Indeed, the Kurdistan Region prides itself on its embrace of religious tolerance and coexistence.
As Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Brownback has energetically pushed to promote religious freedom on a global scale and establish it as a basic, universally recognized human right.
Religious freedom is “really, in a sense, a gateway freedom,” Brownback explained. “You get this one right, and there tends to be an expansion to a series of others.”
“Like freedom of expression and religion, you can’t do separately. They have to be together,” he continued. “It’s also a gateway to a stronger economy” and “a healthier society,” with “less terrorism,” and “we see that in the data.”
Last month, the State Department hosted its second Ministerial conference on religious freedom. The US is the first country to sponsor such an event. Its first conference on religious freedom was held last year, shortly after Brownback assumed his current position.
The conference is part of a broader US effort “to get a global movement launched,” both at the grassroots and governmental level, Brownback explained. Some 105 countries were represented at the three-day event.
The ambassador is a long-time friend of the Kurds. From 1996 to 2010, Brownback served in the US Senate, representing the state of Kansas. While a senator, he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
Brownback is a Republican. In 2007, he co-sponsored a non-binding resolution, along with his Democratic colleague, Sen. Joe Biden (later Vice-President), calling for a decentralized, federal system in Iraq. The Senate approved the bipartisan resolution by a large majority: 75 to 23. The Kurdistan Regional Government welcomed it, although Baghdad opposed it.
In speaking with Kurdistan 24, Brownback praised the recent decision of the Kurdistan Regional Parliament to recognize August 3 as Yezidi Genocide Remembrance Day.
“I really commend the Kurdish Regional Government and the parliament,” Brownback said. “The Yezidis were persecuted very near by the Kurdish Region, and many of them fled to the Kurdish Region to find sanctuary. So I applaud them.”
Brownback also noted the need for more effective security coordination between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly in the disputed territories.
Brownback visited northern Iraq and the Kurdistan Region last year and subsequently described the lack of security in the Yezidi areas and other parts of northern Iraq.
Unfortunately, the problem persists, as a recent report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office explained.
“The US government and many others governments and private entities have invested a lot of money in rebuilding the area destroyed by ISIS,” Brownback told Kurdistan 24.
“The United States has put over $300 million” into the Nineveh Plain region, and others have contributed funds as well, including the Hungarian and Polish governments, along with private sector groups, he continued.
“But it won’t be sustainable in the long term or grow, until the security issue is dealt with,” Brownback said. “And that’s the one we’re still lacking—a robust security answer to the problem.”