Putting an end to the Islamic State terror group’s persecution of Middle East Christians and other minority groups is now a top priority for the Obama administration, State Department officials told TheBlaze this week.
An Iraqi family who fled fighting near the city of Mosul prepares to sleep on the ground as they try to enter a temporary displacement camp, July 3, 2014 in Khazair, Iraq. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Christians and other religious minorities persecuted by the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, have been fleeing their homeland in a crisis expected to continue to escalate as militants threaten to encroach far beyond Syria and Iraq in their pursuit of a caliphate.
But as U.S. and European officials continue to search for solutions to quell the growing power of the radical organization -- which operates as a de facto political state -- new support is sprouting among disenfranchised Muslim youth in Europe. Muslim supporters of ISIS were waving the group's black flag in the Hague, Netherlands on Tuesday and shouting "death to Jews" at a protest, which was approved by the Dutch government, according to numerous news reports.
Steven Feldstein, deputy assistant secretary with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told TheBlaze that the State Department has allocated an additional $14.3 million in humanitarian assistance since June 12 to meet the needs of Iraqi internally displaced persons and conflict victims.
"Persecution of Christians and other minority groups is a top priority for us," Feldstein said. The State Department had already obligated over $136 million to Iraqis in the 2014 fiscal year.
"We’re meeting with those in vulnerable communities, religious representatives and leaders in the region," Feldstein said. "We’re looking to fully engage to the extent possible to assist those who have been persecuted by ISIL."
Feldstein would not comment on details of how the money is being allocated in an effort to address the crisis because of ongoing operational planning and security.
"I can’t comment on where we think ISIL will expand or show up next, it’s hypothetical," said Feldstein. "The very essence that they began first in Syria, and now Iraq doesn’t bode well for how they will act next."
On Monday, the State Department released its 2013 International Religious Freedom Report, noting that in three years of civil war in Syria, "as in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self."
The report noted that hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Syria. Like the situation in Iraq's city of Mosul, the Syrian city of Homs has less than 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict.
Former State Department officials who spoke with TheBlaze on condition that they not be named said the State Department never prioritized Christian groups who have long been persecuted in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Over the past several months, ISIS has seized mass areas of Iraq and Syria, imposed strict Islamic law in the areas it occupies and began forcing Christians and other religious groups to either convert to Islam or face death.
"Christian persecution has never really been a priority for the State Department," one former State Department official said. "It was almost a non-issue to officials there and now we're seeing the results of not acting sooner."
According to State Department figures tens of billions of dollars have gone to reconstruction programs in Iraq but only a small portion of tax payer dollars that are allocated to aid minority groups in that region.
"Very little can be done at this point in time and that money is a drop in the bucket," said a U.S. official with knowledge of the region. "It's almost too late anyways; most of the Christians have already fled and others have already been forced to convert. This certainly can be categorized as a genocide."
An internal security report obtained by TheBlaze describes the dire conditions for Christians in Iraq, many whose families have lived in the region for thousands of years. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and other lawmakers have been urging immediate humanitarian efforts to aide Christian groups escaping death in Iraq and Syria.
"ISIS is destroying churches, removing crosses, threatening Christians with death and worse," said Wolf, who has spoken about the issue on the House floor five times this week. "This is genocide."
Wolf noted that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "flew the Shiites out of Mosul before ISIS entered and left the Christians there to die."
The security report detailed the implementation of Shariah law in Mosul.
"Another eyewitness stated that the situation of the Christians in Mosul was getting from bad to worse from the day the ISIS took control of Mosul on 10 July 2014 where the Christian women were denied public access without wearing the Islamic Hijab to forbidding wearing of skirts and pants," it said.
[sharequote align="center"]"Another eyewitness stated that the situation of the Christians in Mosul was getting from bad to worse..."[/sharequote]
"The militants of the Islamic State also deprived the Christians off their spirituality by closing all their churches. They also deprived them off their food rationing when they prevented the shop owners from distributing the rations to the Christians Families," the report continued. "The militants of the Islamic State also prevented the shop owners to display products with female images. The militants also let go all female workers working in government jobs except the education sector which remains stalled for the time being. They also separated male doctors from female doctors and established female hospitals with female doctors that will treat women exclusively and male hospitals with male doctors."
In Mosul, which was once home to more than 60,0000 Christians, Christians have been forced to either convert to Islam or be killed. Most have fled to Kurdish territory in the northern part of Iraq, where they are being protected by Kurdish military. Many elderly Christians in the city, who cannot leave their homes due to health concerns or out of fear, have already converted to Islam to save their lives, the emailed security report states.
"They need water, electricity and supplies," Wolf said. "They need people to send them send aid. … There is no one doing anything right now. The Christians have been abandoned and they don't know why no one is helping them. More importantly, they don’t understand why the West isn’t speaking out for them. Where is the Obama administration?"
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