Iraqi bishop urges US aid for frontline community

The Chaldean Archbishop of Irbil, Bashar Warda poses for a photo during an interview with AFP in Washington, DC, on Nov. 27,2017. With the Daesh group routed at last, one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East has a chance to reoccupy its ancestral towns. But the Chaldean and Syriac people of the Nineveh plain in Iraq need support to rebuild to their homes and are still anxious that fighting will return. Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Irbil, hopes President Donald Trump’s administration will redirect US aid to his persecuted people. (AFP/Eric Baradat)
Updated 28 November 2017

Iraqi bishop urges US aid for frontline community

WASHINGTON: With Daesh routed at last, one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East has a chance to reoccupy its ancestral towns.
But the Chaldean and Syriac people of the Nineveh plain in Iraq need support to rebuild to their homes and are still anxious that fighting will return.
Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Irbil, hopes President Donald Trump’s administration will redirect US aid to his persecuted people.
And, in an interview in Washington with AFP, he suggested Christians could help quell tensions on frontline between Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
US Vice President Mike Pence and the ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have suggested redirecting funds from UN aid agencies to Christian charities.
But with almost 20,000 Iraqi Christian families — around 100,000 people — driven from their homes, the bishop is calling for urgent action.
“This is a just case,” he told AFP of his people. “They are persecuted, they are marginalized and they are in need.”
Iraqis of all religions, of course, suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the conflicts that followed his overthrow in 2003.
But smaller minorities, like the Christians and their neighbors the Yazidi, were targeted by extremists in the latest round of bloodletting.

Daesh, the latest incarnation of Sunni Muslim violent extremism, unleashed what US officials have branded a genocidal campaign.
For Warda and his supporters in US-based charity and church movements, it is thus only fair to ask Washington to treat their case differently.
Iraq’s Kurds have an autonomous region and militia that shielded them and the minority refugees they sheltered from the recent violence.
The country’s Arab Shiite majority is the focus of the Baghdad government’s rebuilding efforts and receives aid from nearby Iran.
And even the Sunni Arabs, some of whom fell under Daesh’s sway, will be able to count on some support from wealthy Gulf countries.
But the Christians — and the Yazidis — will be on their own, Warda warns, unless foreign donors step up to the plate.
Already, Hungary and Poland have contributed to the cause, and the community now has high hopes that Trump’s administration will help out.
“You are not just helping them because they are Christians, but because they have been persecuted and left behind,” he says.
And Warda’s trip to Washington is not just to tout a collection plate: he will argue that working with his network is a sound investment.
Haley and Pence have made clear that they have concerns about the efficiency of US-led efforts — but the church is hard at work.

Already, Warda says, some 4,000 families have returned to rebuild the town they call Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest mainly-Christian community.
But smaller villages on what is now the frontline between the forces of the Baghdad government and the Kurdish militia are at greater risk.
One village where 60 homes had been rebuilt was abandoned a second time when these forces, once allies against Daesh, clashed.
In another, the town of Telekuf-Tesqopa or Tel Eskof, 900 recently returned families live with their bags packed in case trouble flares again.
Here again, however, Warda sees hope that with support, the church — however marginal it is in strategic terms — can help Iraq.
The Baghdad-born cleric is now based in Irbil, capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and is contact with churchmen in the Iraqi capital, too.
On at least one occasion, when tempers frayed between Baghdad-aligned forces and the Kurdish peshmerga, Christians have sought to cool tensions.
“So that was because of the church,” he said.
The Christians are grateful for the shelter they have received in Kurdish territory after the jihadists overran the plains around Mosul.
But now they are keen to return home, where security permits, and they have no wish to be drawn into fighting between Irbil and Baghdad.
“It’s a political issue, and we hope that it will be solved via dialogue,” he said. “Everyone knows violence is not the way to settle these issues.
“In fact any military act in these areas would damage the whole reputation of the area and this would mean that the Christians would leave.”
Many Christians have left — campaigners say the population has fallen from around 1.5 million in pre-war Iraq — and others have been killed.
But hopefully, Warda prays, 2018 will be the year when those left behind will rebuild their homes and centuries-old churches by the Tigris river.


France to press to drop Sudan from US terror blacklist

Updated 16 September 2019

France to press to drop Sudan from US terror blacklist

  • Jean-Yves Le Drian is the second top western diplomat to visit Sudan this month
  • SUNA says Le Drian will meet with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the newly appointed Sovereign Council

KHARTOUM: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that France will press to drop Sudan from the US blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism and to support efforts to reintegrate the country into the international community.
Le Drian was in Khartoum for a one-day visit, the first such trip to Sudan by France's top diplomat in more than a decade.
His visit comes as the northeast African country transitions to civilian rule after decades of authoritarianism.
"We will use our influence to ensure that Sudan is removed from this list," Le Drian said at a joint press conference with his Sudanese counterpart Asma Mohamed Abdalla after the two held talks.
"It is the way to ensure that we can consider a new relationship (for Sudan) with financial institutions, everything is obviously linked," he said, asked by AFP if France would back efforts to remove Sudan from Washington's blacklist.
Decades of US blacklisting along with a trade embargo imposed on Sudan in 1997 has kept overseas investors away from the country, in turn isolating it from the global economy.
Sudan's worsening economic situation was the key trigger for nationwide protests that finally led to the ouster of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April.
Washington lifted the sanctions in October 2017, but kept Sudan in the terrorism list along with North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Washington's measures were imposed for Khartoum's alleged support for Islamist militant groups.
Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden resided in Sudan between 1992 and 1996.
Le Drian said the pivotal role played by Sudan's army in the uprising against Bashir would help in removing Sudan from the US blacklist.
"The way the army perceived its role during this period, (that) goes in the direction of removing Sudan from this list," he said.
The army overthrew Bashir in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of months of nationwide protests.
But a military council seized power after ousting him and for months resisted calls from protesters to transfer it to a civilian administration.
Only last month after sustained agitation, a joint civilian-military sovereign council was sworn in to oversee Sudan's transition to civilian rule, the key demand of protesters.
On September 8, Sudan's first cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was sworn in to run the daily affairs of the country.
During his short visit to Khartoum, Le Drian also met Hamdok and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the civilian-military ruling council.
Le Drian also reiterated French support for Sudan's priorities such as rebuilding the economy and striking peace agreements with rebel groups in conflict zones of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.