WASHINGTON -- Baghdad must do more to protect Iraq's religious minorities, a senior US official said Wednesday, while unveiling fresh efforts to aid reconstruction in northern Iraq.
Iraq's Yezidi, Christian, and Kakai minorities suffered mass displacement and even acts of genocide in 2014 when Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists swept across northern Iraq, destroying some of the world's oldest religious communities.
Speaking on the sidelines of an event organized by International Christian Concern in Washington, Sam Brownback, US Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, told Rudaw that now ISIS has been defeated, the Iraqi government must offer these communities the security they need to return and thrive.
"We're putting in efforts and money to rebuild those areas so people can move back into those communities and doing demining operations so that their fields can be operated again," Brownback said.
"The global community has to step up in this case in helping rebuild and guarantee security for the Yezidis, and the Iraqi government needs to do more to protect that minority community and that minority area for Yezidis and Christians and other religious minorities so they can live and thrive in those areas," he added.
Yezidis suffered the worst persecution of any group during the conflict. Thousands were massacred in Shingal and thousands more women and children abducted to be sold into slavery.
Nearly half of the abductees are still missing, according to Yezidi Affairs Office from the KRG Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments.
Washington has pledged $17 million to help create jobs for the people of Nineveh province, including Shingal, Kirkuk Now reported Friday.
"We have had many opportunities to meet with our local partners and fund important projects in Qaraqush. Karamles, Sheikhan, Telsquf, Lalish, Alqush, Shingal, Mosul and other locations," Max Primorac, USAID Special Representative for Minority Assistance Programs, said Thursday in Erbil.
They will "grant small business loans to the people to help them start their own business," Primorac added.
Steve Fagin, the US consul general in Erbil, who was also present, said: "Since 2014, we have offered $2 million in aid to the Yezidis, and we will continue our visits to the IDP camps to oversee the distribution of aid supplies to the IDPs."
The majority of displaced Yezidis have still not returned home, instead residing in IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria.
Many refuse to return unless safety and basic services are provided.
Ali Shaabo, manager of Sardasht Camp, told Rudaw in early May: "The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration had planned to take displaced people back to their hometowns but they didn't return."
Mike Pence, the US vice president and an evangelical Catholic, told a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference in July 2018 his country had dedicated $17 million to religious minorities and "vulnerable communities" living on the Nineveh plains.
"America is launching a new initiative that will not only deliver additional support to the most vulnerable communities but we trust it will also embolden civil society to help stop violence in the future," Pence said.
"It is my privilege as Vice President to announce today the United States of America will establish the Genocide Recovery and Prosecution Response Program, effective today," he added.
However, Hussein Hassan Nermo, a Yezidi MP in Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw English the $17 million "is insufficient and even does not suffice reconstruction of Shingal".
Food aid from humanitarian organizations is "not enough", he said.
Nermo said the Iraqi government has launched the Uda (Return) program, which pays families willing to return home 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqi dinars ($840 to $1,260).