The United States is undertaking new ways to protect religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq. As Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, Knox Thames recently stated in Congressional testimony, "Wherever people are endangered, threatened, or face discrimination, we are working vigorously to find ways to help."
The worst abusers of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East include Daesh, al-Nusra Front, and al-Qaida. Daesh continues to perpetrate atrocities in Iraq, including murder, forced displacement, forced religious conversions, slavery, kidnapping, trafficking, and sexual violence. Daesh has used public beheadings and other forms of summary executions, and has employed child soldiers from among its own recruits as well as captured children.
We must not forget what the Syrian people will always remember: Assad and his allies have, from the very beginning, been by far the primary source of killing, torture, and deprivation in this war; and the primary magnet drawing foreign fighters to Syria, giving cause to Daesh.
"If Daesh is successful in its genocidal and ethnic cleansing efforts," said Mr. Thames, "religious minorities could disappear from Iraq and the region’s dwindling religious diversity could fade even further. Iraq is the home of many historic faiths that risk disappearing from their ancestral homeland: 70 percent of the Christian community has left, the Yezidi community is reduced by 25 percent, and the Sabaean-Mandaean community has virtually disappeared.
In addition to the ongoing campaign to defeat Daesh in order to protect vulnerable people, including but not limited to religious minorities, other actions are needed – like humanitarian assistance. When Secretary Kerry visited Iraq in April he announced that the U.S. would contribute an additional nearly $155 million in humanitarian assistance for the Iraq crisis, bringing the total contribution to more than $780 million since the start of fiscal year 2014.
Areas newly liberated from Daesh are in desperate need of stabilization and transitional justice assistance.
"If we want religious minorities to stay in or return to these regions," said Mr. Thames, "the rebuilding of Mosul and Nineveh Province in Iraq, areas that had been populated by these minority communities, must occur."
The U.S. is taking action now by supporting care for internally displaced persons, including the victims of gender-based violence and those who have escaped captivity. Moreover, those responsible for these heinous acts must be held accountable.
This is a critical moment in Iraq's history: the door could forever close on religious and ethnic minorities there. The U.S. is stepping up now with its allies and partners to ensure that doesn't happen.