ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced on Saturday new financial support of $6.8 million for displaced minorities in Iraq who have been the victims of the Islamic State.
The announcement was made by Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, and it was confirmed by the director of USAID, Mark Green, on Saturday.
According to Pence, the funding is "to support ethnic and religious minorities displaced by the genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)," according to a statement from USAID.
USAID also explained that the award will be administered through Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and The Solidarity Fund Poland.
The new steps follow on Pence’s complaint last year that USAID was too slow and too bureaucratic in delivering assistance to those who needed it—a problem that would be alleviated by working with private charities, rather than UN agencies.
Pence’s recommendations are now being followed. The new aid aims to provide immediate household necessities to affected families and facilitate their return to their homes. It is to be implemented through CRS, which is in direct contact with the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil – Kurdistan Region.
An additional $528,500 is to be provided through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between USAID and the government of Poland to assist displaced people living inside the camps and within host communities in northern Iraq.
The assistance will include providing health-care to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) through "funding two stationary clinics and one mobile medical team."
The award comes within the framework of the Trump administration’s emphasis on promoting international religious freedom, which includes a policy of protecting religious minorities in Iraq.
USAID is an independent agency of the US government, and it is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With a budget of over $27 billion, it is one of the largest official aid agencies in the world and accounts for more than half of all US foreign assistance.
So far, the US has provided some $380 million to support persecuted minorities in northern Iraq.
Since December 2017, when Baghdad announced the military defeat of the so-called Islamic State, reconstruction efforts have stalled. A large percentage of those who fled the fighting, including many members of Iraq’s minority communities, remain displaced in the Kurdistan Region, elsewhere in Iraq, or abroad.
A lack of security remains the biggest obstacle to the return of displaced Iraqis, as Delovan Barwari, US representative of the Barzani Charity Foundation, explained to Kurdistan 24. The Yezidis’ area of Sinjar is not safe for them, and the Nineveh Plains is not safe for Christians, many of whom come from that area.
Sinjar is under the sway of “the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) and elements of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters and Yezidi militias that are supported by them,” Barwari stated.
And “the Christian situation in the Nineveh Plains is not much better than Sinjar,” he said. “Two rogue militias are responsible for the insecurity in the Nineveh Plains:” the Liwa al-Shabak and the Katai’ib Babiliyun.
In addition to the Iranian-backed militias that have established a presence in northern Iraq, the re-emergence of the Islamic State, particularly in the disputed territories, represents another threat. Peshmerga commanders have warned that the security vacuum between Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in some places reaches up to 20 kilometers, with wooded areas and hills that provide cover for terrorist movements in the region.
Indeed, a recent report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office described precisely that problem.
Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Amb. Sam Brownback, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, noted that the US, as well as the Polish and Hungarian governments, along with private sector groups, have contributed significant funds for reconstruction in northern Iraq.
However, Brownback identified the lack of security as a major problem, as he suggested that reconstruction efforts “won’t be sustainable in the long term or grow, until the security issue is dealt with.”
Editing by Laurie Mylroie