Archbishop of Erbil: Is the US abandoning Christians at risk in Iraq?

Erbil, Iraq, May 17, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bashar Warda, one of the leading voices on behalf of persecuted and displaced Christians in Iraq, released today an urgent statement regarding the retreat of U.S. personnel from key areas in the country.

“We are gravely concerned regarding the recent draw down of the U.S. presence in Iraq,” the archbishop said. “Having faced genocide at the hands of ISIS, our shattered communities have drawn immense hope from the promise of the American commitment to Iraqi minority communities spearheaded by the Vice President.”

Warda, as Archbishop of Erbil in the Kurdistan region, received tens of thousands of Christian and Yazidi refugees displaced from the Nineveh Plain after ISIS took large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2012.

“The 2011 pullout by the last administration created the vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge,” the archbishop said. “A new vacuum created by American disengagement will likely meet with a similarly unhappy result. We urgently await clarification from the U.S. government concerning its commitments to the endangered minorities of Iraq.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency U.S. government employees at the American embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil. The Trump administration said the order was given in relation to a threat connected to Iran. Iraqi authorities have expressed doubt about the threat. U.S. lawmakers have asked President Donald Trump for more information about the situation.

Stephen Rasche, counsel for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, told CNA that Archbishop Warda is responding to this partial evacuation.

“We are responding particularly today to unclear information over the past several days from various sources within the U.S. government that the U.S. is preparing to pull back, at least in part, from its prior commitments regarding support to endangered minorities in Iraq,” Rasche said.

Rasche said that Christians and other minorities are increasingly nervous because “the Church in Iraq has yet to receive a clear statement from anyone in the U.S. Government as to what the drawdown of personnel means for efforts to help these minorities.”

On October 25, 2017, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence committed to defending persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

He told a crowd gathered in Washington D.C. for the annual summit of In Defense of Christians (IDC) that the US “will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups.”

“The United States will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith. This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need,” Pence also said.

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