“Victory in combat is only half of the battle,” Vice President Mike Pence said about America’s war against ISIS. He’s right. For the thousands of Christians and Yazidis who survived the horrors of the last four years, they have their lives — and not much else. Their villages reduced to ash, family members dead or missing, and no earthly possessions to speak of, the struggle for a lot of Middle Eastern minorities is just beginning. ISIS may be gone, but the dark shadow cast on the future of these people remains.
Even now, despite losing their grip on the land, these terrorists are still holding hundreds of Christian and Yazidi women and girls in captivity. Ekhlas Khudur Bajoo is one of the many who tried to flee. Kidnapped by ISIS in 2014 after she watched them murder her father, was raped again and again. She tried three times to escape after she was sold as a sex slave. Each time, her captors caught and beat her. On the fourth time, she made it. Ekhlas testified about the nightmare she’d experienced at a U.N. forum, pleading with the world to intervene. “We want justice and accountability for those perpetrators who raped me and my sisters and took our honor,” she added. “Come and hold my hand. I plead with you to stand with us. We want to feel humanity wipe our tears, to heal our wounds, to bring back the smiles on our faces, and to bring back the girls that are still in captivity.”
Rita Habib’s story is just as harrowing. A 30-year-old Christian, she was raped, traded, and tortured by jihadists, along with girls as young as nine. For a $30,000 fee, ISIS agreed to release her to an international advocacy group. In April, she was reunited with her father — the only other member of her family who survived. Like Ekhlas, she’s trying to pick up the pieces of her life. And while the U.S. is trying to help, the president’s team has been caught in the mess of red tape left behind by the last administration.
Months ago, Vice President Pence announced that the U.S. was cutting out the middleman when it came to fast-tracking aid to the Middle East. Instead of funneling money through an ineffective U.N., the Trump administration directed USAID to take full control of relief efforts. Turns out, the United Nations was only part of the problem. More than a half-year later, Pence has had to turn up the heat on USAID, which — like most agencies — seems to be saddled with some uncooperative Obama holdovers. “Restoring the rights and property of Iraq’s Christian and Yazidi communities, who were nearly wiped out by ISIS’s genocidal campaign against them, is a top and unceasing priority,” Pence made clear this month.
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Mark Green, USAID administrator, understands all too well. In a column for the Wall Street Journal, he explains that his staff is “redoubling its effort to swiftly deliver and distribute the aid that Iraq’s persecuted religious communities desperately need.” The delays, he wrote, “must end, and they will.”
“Last October, I directed USAID to develop aid projects that address the challenges facing Christians, Yazidis and other minority groups in the region. To this end, USAID has redirected more than $60 million in humanitarian and stabilization assistance to provide infrastructure support and lifesaving aid in Northern Iraq. The money has helped rebuild schools, hospitals, power stations and wells, and eased the transition of those returning home.
In too many cases, however, assistance has taken too long to arrive. We have yet to reach many of the communities with the greatest need. Decisions made by the previous administration, such as an overreliance on the U.N. and an inadequate appreciation for the work accomplished by faith-based organizations, have proved hard to overcome. And the often rigid processes of federal bureaucracy have slowed implementation further.”
Unfortunately, this is an all-too familiar scenario for the Trump administration. Agencies across the government are still filled with pockets of people who don’t share the president’s viewpoint and are doing everything they can to stop progress. Personnel is policy, the old adage goes. And it will take both to save the hurting people of the Middle East.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.