US to Aid Christian Militias, Refugees Directly

Leaders of the Syriac Military Council, a Christian force that is part of the US- backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS
Leaders of the Syriac Military Council, a Christian force that is part of the US- backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS. These forces have also asked for aid from the U.S.  (Photo: Courtesy)

In a major victory for the defense of Christians in the Middle East, Congress recently passed a bill that calls for direct aid to the Christian units operating in the Nineveh Plains.

Up to now, the Christian forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga have both faced chronic shortages in equipment and funding, as most aid was sent to Iraq’s central government.

An amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act calls on Iraq to ensure “defense equipment and material are getting to Sunni, Kurdish and Christian groups, including the minority groups of the Nineveh Plain,” and that “the U.S. should provide arms, training, and appropriate equipment to vetted elements of the Nineveh Plain Council.”

A total of about $1.3 billion is budgeted for military aid to Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Christian groups for 2018.

The shift represents accelerated progress since the release of Clarion Project’s FaithKeepers movie, which kicked off a groundswell of public engagement for protecting minorities in the Middle East.

When Rep. Jeff Fortenberry offered a similar amendment to last year’s defense bill, it was rejected. This year’s legislation containing the language now awaits President Donald J. Trump’s signature, having cleared both the House and Senate.

In another sign of change, the defense bill’s final version saw the removal of preconditions that the $345 million in aid for the Kurdish Peshmerga is contingent upon “participation in the government of a unified Iraq.”

The groundbreaking moves follow Rep. Trent Franks’ bipartisan resolution recognizing the self-determination of Iraq’s Kurds. The resolution was authored by Clarion Project’s Kurdish affairs analyst, Zach D. Huff.

In October, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced that relief funds sent to the United Nations would be diverted to USAID programs to assist persecuted Christians directly.

“Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” Pence said. “Across the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.”

 

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