The relief agency of the US government is to fast-track some US$35 million in government aid for Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who were terrorised by Islamic State (IS), after Vice President Mike Pence hit out at “bureaucratic delays” in the funds’ distribution.

This 2017 photo shows the devastation of a residential area of the Christian-majority town of Qaraqosh in the Nineveh Plains after its two-year occupation by IS. Photo: Open Doors International

USAID is to give $10 million to two US-based umbrella groups, Catholic Relief Services and Heartland Alliance, the Washington Post reported. It will release a subsequent $25 million to help Christians in the Nineveh Plains and Yazidis in Sinjar, whom campaigners warned were at risk of extinction in their homeland as a result of fleeing the jihadists’ violence.

USAID director Mark Green announced the funding last week, along with a $5m reconciliation programme, following reports that Vice President Pence was furious that aid he promised in October, to enable vulnerable Iraqi Christian and Yazidi communities to rebuild homes and livelihoods, had not arrived.

In a statement, his spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said: “The Vice President will not tolerate bureaucratic delays in implementing the Administration’s vision to deliver the assistance we promised to the people we pledged to help.

Archbishop Warda has overseen the care of thousands of displaced Iraqis, mainly Christians, since they fled IS in 2014. Photo: CNA

“The Vice President directed USAID Administrator Mark Green to travel to Iraq in the coming weeks to report back with an immediate comprehensive assessment addressing any issues that could delay the process of aid distribution.”

The statement explained that the government had taken the decision to channel funds directly through USAID rather than via UN bodies, which it described as “slow, ineffective and wasteful ”.

It came days after the Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, who has been caring for tens of thousands of displaced Christian families, told US-based Fox News that much of the pledged aid had not materialised.

“We are left with still many thousands of families to care for and services to provide, and not a penny with which to do it. In this sense, we are worse off now than we were two years ago,” he said, adding: “The only support for these displaced people comes from the Church, and now it seems everyone is turning away from us.”

The Fox News report said that private charitable donations for Iraqi Christians had decreased, possibly “as donors assumed US assistance would be quickly forthcoming”, and claimed that some Iraqi Christian groups had had proposals for funding from USAID “vetoed, without explanation”.

Catholic Relief Services’ regional director for Europe and the Middle East, Kevin Hartigan, told the US-based Catholic News Agency(CNA) that the USAID funding would be spent through the Iraqi Catholic bishops’ charity Caritas Iraq, “to provide critical assistance to Christians, Yazidis and many other Iraqis of various faiths who had been displaced by violence and are now returning to their homes”. It will also provide “shelter, emergency assistance and education and trauma healing for children,” he added.

CNA reported that a priest who visited Mosul last month said that while more than 3,000 Christian families lived inside the old city of Mosul before IS made it the headquarters of their self-styled caliphate, to date only ten families have returned.

Fr. Benedict Kiely, founder of the US charity Nasarean, added: “ISIS fighters used most of the 45 churches in the old city for shelter, target practice, and torture and, in the case of the Dominican church, as a place to hang their victims from inside the bell tower.”