“If something bold is not done by the United States and the international community, I believe we will see the end of Christianity in the cradle of Christendom and a loss of religious and ethnic diversity throughout the region,” says former US Representative Frank Wolf upon his return from a fifth fact-finding trip to Iraq.
In a report for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, of which he is a senior Fellow, Wolf warns that a lack of action “could result in further destabilisation across the Middle East, such as the Iranian effort to establish a land bridge to Iraq, Syria and to the Mediterranean and present a threat to US national security interests”.
Wolf says there is a “small window to act” and recommends seven time-sensitive policy steps for northern Iraq, including that the US Congress approve bills for providing funds for humanitarian aid to minority faith and ethnic communities, and support for investigation of war crimes.
‘Guarantee they will be safe’
Wolf says there is also a need for a new assessment of the current situation and new top leadership to implement the recommendations, as well as the creation of an international coalition that will secure the Nineveh Plains.
As World Watch Monitor reported earlier this month, the returnees “need a guarantee that they will be safe, and that their rights will be protected”.
After Islamic State was pushed out of the Nineveh Plains, Iraqi Christians have slowly started to return to their (often destroyed) homes. Independent Catholic News (ICN) reports that in the next month up to 15,000 more are expected to return to the city of Qaraqosh.
The expected mass arrival of more families, many of whom have lived in internally displaced people (IDP) camps in Erbil for the last three years, has raised concerns among parents eager to secure places for their children at local schools, and put pressure on NGOs to swiftly repair buildings and renew infrastructure such as electricity and water supplies.
Need for unity
In his recommendations, Wolf also suggests that Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq, and amongst the diaspora, need unity to gain “leverage with key power centres”.
In January, a group of UK-based charities warned in a report that Christians were being excluded from the reconstruction plans for northern Iraq, further eroding the likelihood of their return once Islamic State has been defeated.
Wolf says “there is an ever-increasing concern that many of the ethnic and religious minority communities will be unable to return home due to the destruction, and the growing political tensions, between the central government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] and other non-state actors”.
“The United States should pressure the KRG to implement constitutional reforms that ensure adequate provisions are put in place to provide equal citizenship, security and economic opportunities for the ethnic and religious minorities prior to the referendum,” he adds.