Mike Pence criticizes Iran-backed militias for persecuting Christians, Yezidis

US Vice-President strongly criticized Iranian-backed militias in Iraq for their treatment of Christians and Yezidis.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Vice-President strongly criticized Iranian-backed militias in Iraq for their treatment of Christians and Yezidis.

Speaking on Monday in New York, on the sidelines of the opening of the UN General Assembly, Pence said, “In Iraq, Iran-backed militias terrorize Christians and Yezidis, who were nearly wiped out by ISIS’s recent campaign of genocide.”

A major problem for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from northern Iraq who are still living in camps, despite the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State, is the presence of Iranian-backed militias in their home areas.

As Delovan Barwari, US representative of the Barzani Charity Foundation, recently told Kurdistan 24, the biggest obstacle to the return of the 765,000 IDPs now in the Kurdistan Region is the lack of security in their places of origin.

That includes some 238,000 Yezidis and 56,000 Christians.

READ MORE: Security is biggest challenge for minorities in areas liberated from ISIS

In the Yezidi areas, control is exercised by the Iranian-backed militias, known as the Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and “elements of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), along with Yezidi militias supported by them,” Barwari explained.

“The Christian situation in the Nineveh Plains is not much better than Sinjar,” Barwari added. “Although some people have returned, the vast majority still live in the Kurdistan Region.”

Two rogue militias are responsible for the insecurity in the Nineveh Plains, Barwari stated: the Liwa al-Shabak and the Katai’ib Babiliyun.

The US sanctioned both militias in July, but the effect of the sanctions is unclear.

READ MORE: US sanctions Nineveh Plain’s militia leaders for terrorizing population, blocking IDPs’ return, and corruption

At that time, Bayan Sami Rahman, Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Washington, told Kurdistan 24 that neither the Nineveh Plains, nor Sinjar, were under the control of the Peshmerga or the Iraqi federal government. That makes the most necessary and basic tasks to prepare for the return of displaced populations—like clearing IEDs and rebuilding infrastructure—very difficult.

“I know that there are many people who are calling for the KRG and the Government of Iraq to just sit down and deal with it,” she explained, so the IDPs can go home. But “if it were that simple, of course, we would have done it.”

Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and currently an instructor at The Institute of World Politics, welcomed Pence’s remarks.

“Pence has said that before,” Davis told Kurdistan 24, “but it’s important that he say it again.”

“Some people want to blame the KRG for the large number of Iraqis who remain displaced and in camps,” he said. “But that’s wrong.”

“The KRG has done more than any other local party to take care of IDPs and refugees, including religious minorities,” Davis continued. “The real problem is a lack of security, so they are afraid to go back.”

Pence spoke to introduce US President Donald Trump at an event on religious freedom on the sidelines of the opening of the UN General Assembly.

As Trump noted, it was the first such event of its kind. “It’s a true honor to be the first President of the United States to host a meeting at the United Nations on religious freedom,” he said, as he began his remarks, which could be summarized in one statement from his speech: “Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.”

In the course of his talk, Trump noted the presence of Franklin Graham in the audience, who has “been so instrumental in everything we’re doing.”

Graham runs a Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse, in Iraq and Syria. Graham is a regular visitor to the Kurdistan Region and has great sympathies for Kurdish aspirations.

READ MORE: Franklin Graham: US should support Kurdistan Referendum

The Kurdish people “have been true friends to the United States,” Graham wrote on his facebook page some two years ago, at the time of the Kurdistan independence referendum.

“They welcomed our military. They also welcome Christians and Yezidis and other minorities and give them freedom to worship,” he noted.

“Christians have had to flee from all other areas of Iraq,” except for Kurdistan, Graham stated then.