Episode Six - Assisting Persecuted Communities in Iraq

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

In this episode, Administrator Green and Former Congressman Frank Wolf discuss their recent trip to Northern Iraq as part of a larger United States delegation. In the podcast, they share what they saw on the ground and discuss the United States’ unwavering commitment to supporting persecuted communities, particularly Christians and Yezidis, who were subjected to genocide by ISIS and are still struggling to survive.

Carol Han: Hi everyone, and welcome to the USAID Leads Podcast. Today, we're going to discuss USAIDs initiative to assist persecuted communities in Iraq. Let's jump right in with Administrator Green and Congressman Wolf to hear about USAIDs commitment to help create the conditions for Christians, Yazidis, and other minority communities to safely return to their homes in Northern Iraq.

Administrator Green, Congressman Wolf, thank you so much for joining us.

Both of you recently returned from Northern Iraq where you met with local civil and religious minority leaders, as well as with vulnerable communities who suffered under ISIS. What could you tell us about this trip?

Administrator Green: Well, first off, it was a trip that taught me a great deal about the challenges that religious and ethnic communities in Northern Iraq face. Obviously, we've all read stories. We've all heard stories about what they face. But, I think until you actually see it and actually look in the eyes of those who have been left behind, I think it's hard to fathom just the pain and suffering that they have faced. And the challenges that they still face in terms of being able to return home, and rebuild their lives, and recover.

Carol Han: Congressman Wolf, any initial thoughts about the trip?

Congressman Wolf: Well, it was a good trip. I appreciate the Administrator taking the trip. I appreciate very much the administration's position on helping these people. At the outset, we have to remember all the people we talk to were victims of genocide. That's a very powerful word. I mean, it was coined by Rafael Limpkin at the UN in 1948.

I think, when we left the meeting with the Yazidis, I think everyone in their own way had a tear and crying. I know this one person was weeping, uncontrollably. These people have all been victims of, and I think it was very powerful for the Administrator and the Vice President's office to be out there. And to see, and to hear.

Carol Han: From what both of you are saying it's very clear that the United States has a commitment to helping communities in Northern Iraq. Was there anything specific that either of you saw that demonstrates this commitment? What were your key takeaways from this trip?

Administrator Green: Well, first off, I think the fact that we were there was a sign of the commitment. We were designated a White House Mission. We were asked by the Vice President to go, we had full support of the mission, and we were able to get to places that under normal circumstances one couldn't have approached as we did.

I think, secondly, a sign of the commitment is really going to be in the weeks and months ahead. [so] We have already mobilized support to these communities, and have done so after the last five or six months. We need to do more. Clearly, the work is just beginning. There's a ton that needs to be done.

But, also, one of my takeaways is that while we need the help financially, with financial assistance. It's just letting them know that we care. It's just reaching out and looking them in the eye and saying, Look, America is here. We care. This is important to us. And we're here to comfort and to try to help." I think that was enormously important.

But, as Frank just said, genocide is a term that I think gets thrown around too easily in some ways. This truly was genocide. These people were almost wiped out. And they were targeted because of their faith and their ethnic background.

I'm like Frank. As I looked in the eyes of that Yazidi mother who couldn't tell you where some of her family members are, some of her relatives are. When we see people who have lost ... Particularly who have lost wives, and sisters, and daughters. It's unbelievable. I can't fathom the suffering that they must feel.

[so] We wanted to let them know that we care, we're there. And we'll continue to be. It was very important to all of us, it was very important to the Vice President. This is not a one off. This is not, simply, a trip to say that we've done something. It is ... I won't say the beginning because I think we have been trying to do some things. But, we're early on.

There's a lot of work to be done.

Carol Han: Congressman Wolf, anything specific? Any programs that you saw that really imprinted on you that the US has a commitment to helping these people of Northern Iraq?

Congressman Wolf: Well, Yes. And I agree with Administrator Green. For the Vice President, staff, and for the Administrator to actually go and be there. They were in a number of places where really, the American Embassy hadn't really been. There were a couple of times where the Ambassador said, you know, "I haven't been here." And they were there.

I think you see in different programs, they have to be taken advantage of. I think the more we can do to help the Yazidis. There are 3,000 Yazidi women and girls that have not been returned. The one Yazidi, one passed out eight different photos of the members of her family.

[So] Without AID, I don't think there would be a lot of hope.

Lastly, I think it was helpful where the Administrator pulled together all of the various groups. You had [inaudible 00:08:10] Ashur with the Assyrian Aid, you had Samaritan’s Purse, you had UNDP, you had all of them together. And to see them working together ... And there was one fella and I think it was the fella from Samaritan’s Purse say, "We all ...", meaning them, "... do different things very, very well. And if we come together." I think that was the important takeaway.

Without this effort, I think you would see, frankly, the end of Christianity in the Cradle of Christendom. I mean more biblical activities took place there than any other country, other than Israel.

[And so] I think what the Administrator and the Vice President Office is doing is really offering hope, and substantive things that literally will save them and allow them to stay. They don't necessarily want to go to other places. They want to stay there, they love their country.

[So] Being there with them and then being available so when they have a different program for the Administrator, taking the different things. I think it's a game changer. I think it will ... I am more encouraged having been on the trip than I was before I went.

Administrator Green: Something that Frank just mentioned, I think is really important. I think for a lot of Americans the Middle East is a blur. It's just one big area of the world. Northern Iraq is very special, and Iraq is very special. The pluralism, the diversity of faiths that is the mosaic that was Iraq is unique in the world. It's a very special place.

[And] It is worth supporting. We talk a lot about stabilization, we talk a lot about countries recovering from the ravages of war. If Iraq is going to be the country it can be, it has to maintain this pluralism.

This diversity of faith is terrifically important. And to their credit, we heard that from the Prime Minister. And we heard that from the Prime Minister of the Kurdish territory of Kurdistan. But, also Iraq itself.

I think they recognize that they have something special here, that we all need to sort of hold in our hands, and support, and cradle, because once it goes, it doesn't come back. As Frank said, if Christianity is snuffed out from Northern Iraq, it's never coming back, ever. You can't resew it. So it is worth investing our time, our resources, our compassion in this.

Carol Han: Okay.

Congressman Wolf: If I can follow up, I think what the Administrator said is so accurate. There's a saying in the Middle East, first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people. The Jewish community, in 1950, there were 150,000 Jewish people there. When I was there a year ago, I asked how many are left. They said four elderly men.

So what took place to the Jewish community will be taking place to the Christian community, and the Yazidi community, and the Shabak community. So the Administrator is right, if you lose it now, you'll never get it back.

Carol Han: Congressman Wolf, as Christians, the Yazidis and other minority communities return home, what are some of the challenges that you see them facing and, in your opinion, how is USAID doing to help?

Congressman Wolf: I think USAID is doing a good job. It's a fast start because I've really ... Don't want to criticize previous administration. But, I think you're now seeing a focus that you haven't really quite seen before. I think the number one issue, knowing what I believe that AID and many other groups will do.

I think the number one issue will be security, because as you rebuild the home, as you get the power grid up, as you get the water treatment system you want to make sure that there is a secure environment.

Secondly, by having a strong community, I think you can negate ISIS from being re-established. I think the number one issue as you AID assist is what will you do if you go to the security?

Administrator G: You know, the Department of Defense talks about the importance of stabilization. Really, what they're talking about is ensuring that there is no void or vacuum for extremists to fill. And unless we help to restore the vibrancy of these communities, which is physical security. Also, some economic security, health security. You have lots of young mothers who do not have access to the kind of care that they need to have ... Prenatal, postnatal care.

You're really leaving open ground for the bad guys to refill and that would undermine all the terrific work that's been done by our men. Our brothers and sisters in uniform who have done fabulous work, and have chased ISIS away on the battlefield. If we're not careful, it could come undone unless we move in this way.

So there is very much security self- interest at stake here as well.

Carol Han: But, clearly, USAID has a role now that one security situation is at a certain point to, as you say, be coming in.

Administrator G: Yeah. USAID has an important role. I mean, this is important to us. And it's something that we're dedicated too. It's also important to our partners. And Frank made reference to Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse, the Knights of Columbus.

I was really impressed with the civil society leaders and the NGO leaders that I saw there. I've seen a lot in my career. I'm not sure I've ever come across a group more dedicated, working under more trying conditions than these individuals are.

And I was impressed with what I heard. They said the right things. They came to us talking about the role that they can play, and the role that we can play. And that was very encouraging to me. There are dedicated people, and you know, honestly they're putting their lives on the line. This is not an entirely secure part of the world.

So they were very impressive to me as well.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, Vice President Pence promised to break down barriers to provide persecuted religious communities with the help that they need to rebuild their lives and restore hope. How is USAID working to fulfill that promise?

Administrator G: I think in some of the ways that we've just been discussing. Security is the number one concern. We heard that over and over again everywhere we went. So, providing security in the form of police, of security that communities can support, and believe in, and identify with I think is terrifically important.

Providing the economic means of survival. So, this is a part of the world in which agriculture is very important, obviously. Certainly, we can work on such things as food security, and water security. I think that's also breaking down the barriers, is they look to have access to the markets or places like Mosul. And access to education, higher education in Mosul. I think it's tackling some of those barriers.

I think that's also helping on the family health security side. Again, if you're a young mother, Yazidi mother, how are you going to get access to the basic care that you need to have a safe birth, and healthy, vibrant families? And so that's all work that we know how to do. It's the work that we've done in so many places in the world. And it's work that we need to do here, and I think it's work that we need to do out of an abundance of compassion.

These are people that have not only suffered in the material ways, but they have been the targets of what can only be described as evil. I mean, people who seek to destroy them. To destroy their way of life, to destroy their spirit. And that, we have to keep in mind, as we work as well.

And I know the good men and women of USAID are up to the challenge. There's a long road ahead, we have a lot of work to do. But, it's a mission that we believe in, it's a mission that's important.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, Congressman Wolf, do you think the work that USAID could do could help restore some of the hope that the Vice President has pledged to restore to that region?

Congressman W.: I do. I think with the Vice President's speech, and the commitment of the Vice President, commitment of Administrator Green and having watched. And also, Ambassador Brownback, having watched, I think this will make all the difference in the world. And once you find that security piece ... Without it, there will be no hope.

Administrator G: I've now met with the Vice President three times on the topic. This is important to the Vice President, this is important to the President. Therefore, it is important to all of us." He's right.

So we will find ways to restore hope. And the fact that it's such a high priority for this administration, quite frankly, gives me hope because it tells me that we'll have the support we need to get this job done.

Carol Han: What are the next steps Administrator Green?

Administrator G: There are lots of them. In some ways, I think what Ambassador Brownback, Sam Brownback, who is our ambassador-at-large for religious freedom. The religious freedom ministerial that is coming up is in some ways, the next step because I think it helps to once again reinforce our focus on the importance of religious liberty. And I know that he will talk about our travels in Northern Iraq. I know I will talk about it. I think, in some ways, that's one of the steps that we need to take.

But, we're already working throughout the administration to look for ways to begin to address the security needs and to make sure that we mobilize the resources. It's also really important that we work with groups that are respected and trusted in these communities. You know, they have to ... We have to have partners to work through that understand the suffering that these poor communities have gone through.

And so making sure that we do that is also, in some ways, the most important work that we're doing in the coming weeks.

Speaker 1: It all, ultimately, comes down to helping the people. Doesn't it?

Administrator G: Sure. It is about helping people. This is the mission that, obviously, we all sign up for and we come to USAID. But, I think it has a special significance here because this really does touch upon those things that are core to our humanity.

And so I think, yes. This is important everywhere in the world. But, for all the reasons you've just heard, I think there is a special significance here.

Speaker 1: Congressman Wolf, anything else to add before we close?

Congressman W.: I appreciate what the administration is doing, what the Administrator is doing, what the Vice President's office, and Ambassador Brownback. It was encouraging. I wish, frankly, all the American people could have come to see the meeting, listened to the people.

But, no. I completely agree. And I'm very grateful.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, any last thoughts?

Administrator G: No. I learned a lot from this mission, and now we have to put the lessons to work.

Speaker 1: Sounds like it was a good trip all in all.

Administrator G: I thought it was a very good trip.

Congressman W.: Same.

Carol Han: Thank you. To our listeners out there, thank you for joining us. And be sure to follow #USAID on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This episode and others are available in the App Store. Just search for USAID Leads. Until next time.


Last updated: June 05, 2020

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