K of C leader warns of threat to Iraqi religious minorities
Religious minorities are in dire need of support in Iraq and may not survive attacks by paramilitary groups, the head of the Knights of Columbus recently told a conference of religious and civic leaders.
Speaking at the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington on July 17, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said Iraq bears responsibility for the threat to Christian and other minority groups, according to a release.
The meeting, which included leaders from 106 countries, was presided over by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
We stand at a critical juncture, Anderson said in his address. “If the destruction of these communities is completed, Baghdad will bear responsibility for the loss of its minorities.” He said the Iraqi government, despite the removal of ISIS, is unwilling or unable to stop paramilitary groups, many from Iran, from abusing religious minorities, discouraging them from returning to their homes, according to the release.
The New Haven-based Knights, other private organizations, along with the United States and other governments, have spent millions of dollars to help people return to their ancestral homes, Anderson said.
However, he said, “During a visit to Iraq earlier this year, I was told repeatedly that security is the primary concern of those trying to return home after ISIS.”
Anderson said the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Initiative, led by Pence, is “an important step forward for the United States, and we are grateful for his leadership and that of the White House, the State Department and USAID on this issue,” the release stated.
The Knights signed an agreement with USAID last year to help better coordinate responses to persecution and genocide, including better information sharing. The public/private partnership for humanitarian assistance has helped the region recover from ISIS’s persecution.
“For instance, we have focused on rebuilding homes in the town of Karamles, one of the few success stories for returns to the portion of the Nineveh region controlled by Baghdad,” Anderson said.
Since 2014, the K of C has committed about $25 million to support persecuted religious minorities in Iraq, Syria and other areas, the release said.
“We are helping to bridge gaps, clarify solutions, and bring key stakeholders together from government, the U.N., [nongovernmental organizations] and victimized communities to find strategies that work,” Anderson said.