Support to Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Iraq

Speeches Shim

Yezidi genocide commemoration in Iraq
Yezidi youth light candles to commemorate the Yezidi genocide

Assistance to religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq is a continuation of USAID's work to promote inclusive development in our partner countries, defend human dignity and religious freedom globally, and aid communities in times of need.

Iraq has a rich history of religious and ethnic pluralism. However, over the last 50 years, the existence of many religious and ethnic minorities continues to be threatened: the oppressive policies enacted by former president Saddam Hussein seeking to consolidate control, and the violent sectarian strife that ensued following his removal in 2003, have had a disproportionate impact on these vulnerable communities. The arrival of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014 in northern Iraq upended any remaining measures of tolerance. ISIS’s genocidal tactics against local ethnic and religious minorities, especially Yezidis and Christians, sought to eradicate any community whose beliefs stood in opposition to its own.

Yezidis, who are perceived as infidels by ISIS, were treated particularly ruthlessly. ISIS killed men and adolescent boys and abducted women and children. They enslaved women, and often subjected them to sustained sexual violence. Girls as young as nine were also enslaved and sold to ISIS fighters. Young boys were indoctrinated and forced to join the ranks of ISIS. Today, the impact of this horrific genocide remains ever-present: tens of thousands of Yezidis remain displaced in internally-displaced person (IDP) camps and nearly 3,000 women and children are still missing. Much work remains to meet the immediate needs for protection and restoration, promote stability and cohesion, document ISIS’s crimes, and prevent future atrocities.

What We Do

USAID’s assistance combines short, medium, and long-term efforts to help meet the immediate, life-saving, and recovery needs of the Yezidis, Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. Since 2017, USAID has provided more than $389 million to help rehabilitate critical infrastructure, provide psychosocial support and medical services, and facilitate economic development to support conflict-affected communities in northern Iraq. Working through a multi-layered approach in close coordination with partner governments, international organizations, and most importantly local Iraqi partners, USAID is helping these communities recover from genocide and peacefully return to their ancient homelands.

Immediate Needs

USAID is providing humanitarian assistance for vulnerable populations in and returning to the Ninewa Plain and Sinjar, including shelter materials and household items, medical care, mental health and psychosocial support, mine risk education, and cash transfers. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, USAID is also delivering timely health and humanitarian assistance to help at-risk communities combat the spread of disease.

Healing and Restoration

USAID is supporting community-led efforts to address early recovery needs of communities liberated from ISIS, such as removing rubble, restoring electricity and potable water systems, and rehabilitating schools and healthcare facilities.

USAID is helping to ensure a smooth reintegration for returning IDPs by rebuilding damaged and destroyed homes, providing mental health and psychosocial services, livelihoods assistance, and legal support to press charges against their ISIS perpetrators.

Promoting Stability and Economic Recovery

USAID is working with religious and community leaders and youth to rebuild trust and cohesion and develop vocational and leadership skills to help young people find dignified work opportunities or start their own entrepreneurial ventures.

USAID is providing business recovery grants, while also building up the competitiveness of local small and medium-sized enterprises to help grow revenue, create jobs, and foster economic prosperity through facilitating access to investment capital, insurance, and technical assistance.

Preventing Future Atrocities

USAID is working closely with the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, local civil society, and communities from northern Iraq to shape policy to ensure the safe return of IDPs to their homelands.

USAID is supporting the recovery of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence committed by ISIS and is strengthening the Iraqi government’s ability to address the systemic issues that lead to sexual and gender-based violence.

Achievements To Date

  • Empowering locally-driven rehabilitation efforts: $6.5 million awarded in small grants directly to six Iraqi faith-based and community organizations in northern Iraq. In Ninewa Plain specifically, USAID is working with an additional 83 local organizations and 17 faith-based organizations to provide assistance with livelihoods, as well as health, and social-cohesion services to minority communities in northern Iraq.
  • Fostering youth prosperity: Over 500 youth from persecuted minority communities in Ninewa Plan and western Ninewa have received training in technical and management skills to boost their employability or start their own businesses.
  • Providing health, financial, and legal services: USAID is funding three centers offering comprehensive medical, mental health, and psycho-social services to religious and ethnic minority communities, as well as assistance with livelihood recovery and legal support, reaching over 17,000 individuals.  USAID also supports the Smile of Hope Center in Mosul, a trauma recovery center for torture victims of ISIS and provides mental health services, primary health care, and psycho-social support are in seven camps in northern Iraq.
  • Building critical infrastructure: USAID is rehabilitating 15 schools and 12 water distribution networks, has supplied critical medical equipment to four clinics, rehabilitated over 360 homes, has installed 250 water tanks for Yezidi households, dug 25 wells for agricultural irrigation, installed 176 electricity transformers in Yezidi communities, equipped and rehabilitated schools, and has provided 9,000 school kits to Yezidi children to help them return to school.
  • COVID-19 support: USAID delivered over 5,000 food baskets to Yezidi families across the district of Sinjar, providing one-month worth of food to 26,000 residents.
  • Sustaining independent media: USAID has provided operational support to Ezidi 24, an online, independent, and non-partisan media outlet, to produce news and information shows, articles, and videos highlighting issues important to the Yezidi community and other minorities.


Last updated: December 14, 2020

Share This Page