Iraqi Christians, Facing Double Whammy Challenges: A Discussion with Joseph T. Kassab, President and Founder of the U.S. Based Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAE)
2017-11-20 By Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird
The Middle East is certainly in turmoil and transition.
The Turkish government under its current government is looking to expand Turkish influence in the region, certainly, in part, to bolster its own power position and to deal with Syrian instability.
The Iranians are working their own form of power projection in the region and have enhanced their power in Iraq.
The dramatic political changes in Saudi Arabia provide a significant input to further turmoil into the region and a very plausible restructuring factor as well.
The battle against ISIS in terms of dislodging them from control of physical territory has progressed with successes.
Yet the Christians in Iraq are in many way operating like a ping pong ball as they suffer from ISIS and then suffer from the forces liberating ISIS.
The Nineveh plain has been largely destroyed and needs to be rebuilt; and an obvious factor allowing for greater stability and ethnic autonomies in the region, namely greater autonomy for the Kurds has been attenuated as well.
The U.S. rejected the legitimacy of the Kurdish vote for independence and the Iraqi government unleashed an assault against Kurdish positions in Iraq.
Although the goal of an Iraqi nation remains and the hope for a peaceful federation is still articulated, providing greater autonomy for the Kurds and build out from that has been a position which we have argued for a number of years.
In a world which is evolving rapidly or breaking down rapidly, it depends where you look, taking a leverage point like the Kurdish vote can form a leverage point, both to aid other minorities, in this case the Christians, as well as to shape practical ways to reduce Iranian influence in Iraq.
Helping the Christians in Iraq is important in and of itself, certainly for the global Christian community.
But also it is part of re-energizing stabilization efforts within a more diversified Iraq itself.
We met with Joseph T. Kassab at the end of his most recent visit to Washington and interviewed him on November 16, 2017.
As Kassab put the situation in the region: “For the peoples of the Middle East, they are reaching a clear breaking point throughout the region.
“Christians going back to their homes in liberated Nineveh Plain are once again facing war challenging due to the fierce conflict between the Kurd and the Iraqi government on this longtime contested region”
“The level of corruption is so high and the inability to deliver stability and a decent quality of life to the to be returned population seems to have no end in sight.
“The recent developments in Saudi Arabia might presage a new round but well applauded of Arab Spring as a result.”
During his visit, he talked with both Iraqi government officials and US government officials.
Recently, both President Trump and Vice President Pence have spoken out clearly with regard to the need to support Christians in Iraq, specifically and with regard to the general challenge of stabilization.
According to Kassab, the Administration has made progress but efforts need to continue.
In his visit to USAID, he saw clear support for the Trump and Pence’s positions to support stability in Iraq and to hold a major conference to shape a way ahead with regard to funding and support, both on the national and international level.
Yet the general concerns which the President has focused upon with regard to immigration has clearly blocked the ability of Iraqi Christians to enter the United States.
He noted that President Obama was able to provide a way to bring 12,500 Muslims into the United States from Syria and he encourages President Trump to use a similar approach for the persecuted Iraqi Christians as well.
Joseph Kassab highlighted what he saw as a growing influence of the neighboring countries in Iraq and the genuine interest of Prime Minister Abbadi to marginalize this influence and to fiercely fight corruption in his own country as a key factor alleviating all realistic approaches to shaping stability.
He suggested that the rebuilding of the Nineveh plain might make an effective focal point for international efforts to reshape the area free from foreign influence and the ability of minority populations like the Christians to be able to be protected in the process.
It was also surprising and important to learn from Joseph that the tolerance of the Kurdish Islamic followers to accept Kurds of the region to intermarry with people of the Jewish faith.
This is another significant trend and a building block for solid international efforts embracing U.S. development programs in the area.
Recently, Kassab presented a series of proposal to the Honorable Dr. Saleem Al Jubouri, President and Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, who reacted kindly to the initiative, according to Kassab.
These proposals formed as well the basis for his various discussions during his most recent visites to Washington DC and were as follows:
- Amend the Iraqi Constitution to reflect the recognition of civil rights and freedom of religion for all ancient religious minorities including the Christians. More of their representation in the Iraqi Parliament and Government Institutions should be also added,
- Combine all non-traditional armed forces with the officially established Iraqi Army to ensure full loyalty to the whole nation and its people,
- The US and the Western World should be asked to play instrumental role in helping the Central Government of Iraq and its Parliament to assist in resolving the mushrooming problems between the many disputed factions and political parties which assume power and govern the nation,
- Normalize and seek good relationships with the Arab states neighbors,
- Encourage interfaith Dialogue and minimize the role of religious institutions in the politics of the nation. Encourage civic institution and citizens to play this significant role,
- Establish efficient National Reconstruction and Stabilization Council (NRSC) to rebuild prosper Iraq,
- Call for International Conference in or outside the country to pledge support to reconstruct Iraq. This should take place under the auspice of United Nations, United States, Arab States League, and European Union. Also, Iraqi oil revenues should be invested in this initiative,
- Reconstruct and strengthen the Iraqi Armed Forces, Police, and Security apparatuses,
- Reconstruct the governmental infrastructure to support incoming goods cost and to significantly stimulate the private sector investments to prosper,
- Cease and terminate all of shady deals and corruption among officials and their clans,
- Secure the porous borders and stop foreign fighters from entering and harming Iraqis by taking Iraq as a sanctuary for their illegitimate attacks,
- Limit the interference in the politics of Iraq by ALL of its neighboring countries,
- Reactivate the Iraqi National Reconciliation Forum (Al Sahwa) and encourage dialogue between all Iraqi political parties, tribal people, technocrats, and members of the ethno-religious minority groups
- Encourage the return of displaced and refugees by providing all necessary needs to re-establish promising future through justifiable protection, reconstruction, security, stabilization, and prosperity programs,
- Establish governmental council for reparations and compensation for the war and seatrain violence impacted people like the minority groups in Nineveh Plain.
Editor’s Note: For earlier articles of interest, and our discussions with Joseph Kassab, please see the following
In the photos above, respectively they show Joseph Kassab visiting with the head of the Iraqi parliament, the State Department and USAID.