Former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, says the United States must lead decisive action to protect Christians and other religious minorities facing severe persecution in Iraq and that there may only be months left to save the Christian population there from extinction.
As reported earlier, Wolf recently led a seven-day trip to Iraq, where he interviewed countless persecuted believers and was told people there don’t see any meaningful help coming from the West on their behalf against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. After retiring from Congress in January, Wolf is now the first-ever Wilson Chair in Religious Freedom at Baylor University. He is also co-founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which sponsored the trip in to Iraq in January. The group also recently released a report of that visit, entitled “Edge of Extinction.”
In addition to documenting the horrors of ISIS violence, the report also details six recommendations, starting with the creation of a “Ninevah Plains Province” to protect religious minorities and even establish it’s own National Guard-type security force. The report concludes another high priority should be much more active support for the only meaningful resistance to ISIS in much of Iraq.
Wolf says decisive action needs to be taken and there’s only one logical choice to lead the effort.
“The United States must take the lead. Quite frankly, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the United Nations. The U.S. must take the lead. Secondly, they must aid the Peshmerga, that’s the Kurdish military, because they are the point of the spear against ISIS,” said Wolf, who says we need to change how we help the Peshmerga.
“When you look at the weapons that the Peshmerga has compared to ISIS, ISIS has sophisticated, American-made weapons that they took from the Iraqi military. The Peshmerga has old, old, old weapons,” said Wolf.
As a prerequisite for the direct aid to the Peshmerga, another major recommendation of the Wilberforce Initiative report calls for the establishment of a safe zone for displaced Christians and other religious minorities.
“One of the conditions for giving them weapons and aiding and training is that they will set aside their so-called Ninevah Plain Protection Unit area and Christians, Yazidis, Turkamen and other religious minorities can stay there. They are working on a national guard that will defend it. But the United States needs to put pressure on the Kurdish government, who I think will do this,” said Wolf.
While Wolf remains optimistic that the Kurdish government can be convinced to aid persecuted minorities, he’s far less confident the actual Iraqi government can be trusted for much of anything. A prime example is Baghdad’s insistence that any weapons sent to Kurdish forces must go through the Iraqi government but the Iraqis never actually pass those weapons along to the Peshmerga.
Wolf says there’s a troubling reason for that.
“The Iraqi government, unfortunately, is being taken over by Shia elements. You have a large number of Iranians that are connected to the Iraqi government. If we put pressure on them, because they want our assistance and they want our aid, then I think [cooperation] will happen,” said Wolf.
For the refugees, survival is the most immediate concern, but Wolf says they also want every reasonable measure taken to save their homes whenever an offensive is launched to root out ISIS from Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq.
“They want their houses back. Christians and Yazidis are getting calls from people who are living in their homes, saying ‘We’re in your home. Now how does this work.’ They’re concerned the homes are going to be destroyed when the Kurdish government comes back [with] the Iraqi military,” said Wolf.
With the ISIS onslaught against Iraqi Christians nearing the nine month mark already, Wolf says there isn’t mush time for the U.S. and our allies to act.
“It’s pretty short. I don’t think the people will continue to live in the conditions that they’re in. I say six months, maybe to a year. There’ll always be perhaps a remnant but overall I think you’re going to begin to see them dramatically begin to leave,” he said.
Religious leaders made it clear to Wolf and his team that they cannot stay much longer under current conditions.
“We met with the religious leaders. They said they want to stay. The people say they want to stay. The phrase was ‘help us to stay,’ meaning, ‘If you don’t help us to stay, we’re going to go.’ I think within a matter of a year or two, if there’s not something fairly dramatically done to come to their assistance, you’re going to see them leave in droves,” said Wolf.
“In three to five years, there’ll be almost no Christians left in the region,” he said.