WASHINGTON – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) yesterday released its 2020 Annual Report in which its calls on the U.S. government to empower Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities in attaining self-governance and a representational security framework in the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar regions of northern Iraq. The USCIRF also repeated earlier recommendations for the U.S. government to put Iraq on its Special Watch List of countries engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom and to use U.S.-Iraqi political relations to maintain pressure on the Iraqi government to implement its own stated policy to rein in Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces that continue to engage in sectarian violence and prevent the return and rehabilitation of Yazidis, Christians, and other religious and ethnic components in northern Iraq. The USCIRF emphasizes that
“more than any other single factor, a lack of security, mainly due to the corrosive presence of largely Iranian-backed militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — continued to impede progress toward improved religious freedom conditions.”
The USCIRF’s recommendations to the U.S. government to assist and empower religious indigenous minorities such as the Yazidis and Chaldeans-Syriacs-Assyrians in their existential struggle for self-governance and representational security in the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar, is a much needed call for action to protect and preserve Middle East Christian and Yazidi communities. In its 2020 Annual Report, the USCIRF recommends U.S. policy toward Iraq to shift in the coming months to assist;
“in the empowerment of Iraqi religious and ethnic minorities – through their political and civic representatives as well as religious leaders – to initiate and advocate for their own interests, including opening a broad discussion into governance and a representational security framework for the Nineveh Plains area.”
The USCIRF report highlights the fragility of any improved stability in northern Iraq and the need for ongoing, intensive, and international support to allow for the full return of the tens-of-thousands of civilians from religious and ethnic minority communities who remain internally displaced. USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza, who personally travelled to the areas in question on several occasions, emphasized in a March interview with Sarah Basil of religious freedom advocate NGO “In Defence of Christians”, the fact that this might be one of the last opportunities to save Christianity in the Middle East. In the interview, Commissioner Maenza referred to an Open Doors report which foresaw a dark future for the regions Christian communities if nothing was done to assist them.
USCIRF is an independent government appointed body which gives non-binding advice and recommendations to the U.S. government on policies to advance international freedom of religion and belief. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States.