President Trump pledged on the campaign trail to end the persecution of Iraqi Christians. He should waste no time proving he is true to his word by endorsing the establishment of an internationally-protected safe zone for Iraq’s minorities that have faced genocide for far too long.
Some reports estimate that around 80 percent of Iraq’s Christian population has fled or been killed since 2003. This minority numbered as many as 1.4 million people but may be as little as 275,000 now. And that’s just one minority. ISIS also embarked on a brutal campaign to wipe out the Yazidis, Kakai Kurds and countless Muslims who stood in their way.
I was recently in the Christian city of Qaraqosh—or what remains of it. Although ISIS was pushed out in September, few people have returned to their homes. It felt as if the battle had just ended, with an eerie quiet only interrupted by the loud crunch of glass beneath our shoes as we toured destroyed, blackened, and bullet-ridden buildings.
‘We Don’t Worship A God Of Buildings’
Our Christian guides warned us to be on the lookout for disguised explosives left behind by ISIS. Inside what was said to be the local ISIS headquarters, we came to a classroom with a small stack of Qurans, apparently unmoved and still covered in dust.
When we stood inside a torched church, which they said ISIS subsequently used as a training ground, the Iraqi Christians said they saw an enemy full of fear and insecurity. A painting of Jesus remained by the altar; a sign that they will fill the church once again.
“We don’t worship a God of buildings,” our guide said, explaining that the persecution had grown his faith and he felt closer to God than ever before.
“Ryan, be careful,” one man said as he pointed upwards to the fragile ceiling of his home, as he showed us the remnants of his and his parents’ bedrooms. Their home had been seized by ISIS, and subsequently targeted by an airstrike.
“I have nothing. Look. I have nothing. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said, staring into piles of rubble.
The sadness wasn’t from reflecting upon the past, but the future. You could hear the loneliness of a people that felt abandoned and unprotected from the next round of genocide and war.
Iraqi Christians Need Safe Zones, Not Evacuation
The Christians and other victims were quick to emphasize that ISIS is only the latest face of genocidal ambitions against them. Radical Islamist ideology, and its associated bigotry, will continually manifest itself in one group after another.
For those we spoke to, evacuation was out of the question. They wanted help to come back and rebuild to the point of self-sufficiency, not to flee and essentially make the genocide a success.
The solution they envision comes in three forms: The establishment of a safe zone for minorities in the Nineveh Plain; aid from the church in reconstruction; and self-protection.
The Christians emphasized they are not calling for a theocratic Christian province. They are requesting an internationally-protected area for all minorities, similar to what the Iraqi Kurds and Shiites had while Saddam Hussein was in power. Although some Christians claimed the Kurds would resist this idea, Kurdish officials with whom we met emphasized they are already on record supporting such an initiative. President Trump should immediately get to work on implementing it.
The Church Can Help Its Brothers And Sisters Overseas
The second pillar of support is from the church, which requires awareness and mobilization. A great starting point would be a screening of our documentary, “Faithkeepers,” at your church. Assistance with reconstruction was the top request of the Christians we met, through financial support, expertise, and manpower.
President Trump should call on the church to rise to the occasion, and order the State Department to review what role it can play in facilitating the mission. Politicians should tap their wealthy donors. And voters should demand that they do so.
The third pillar must be the development of local security within the safe zones, so that minorities have some ability to defend themselves from future perpetrators of genocide.
“I only trust the Nineveh Plain Units [local Christian security force],” said the member with the destroyed home, recalling how Kurdish forces abandoned the area to ISIS. Kurds argue that they were outmatched and needed to fall back.
Don’t Dismiss The Atrocities To Iraqi Christians
U.S. relationships with the Kurds and Iraqi central government can help heal these wounds, make sure complaints from minorities are addressed, and act as a check on dangerous influences, such as those from Iran. The U.S. is positioned to play a constructive role by ensuring that minorities have adequate local security forces, so they don’t feel completely vulnerable and dependent.
We must not dismiss the atrocities faced by Christians and other minorities as unavoidable symptoms of a dysfunctional Middle East. President Trump must keep his promise, lest another round of atrocities ensue.