Iraqi Christian Groups Respond After USAID Grants Given to Help ISIS Victims Were Criticized by Media

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, left, shakes hands with Archbishop Bashar Warda during his visit to the Chaldean Church in Erbil, Iraq. | (Photo: Reuters/Azad Lashkari)

Iraqi Christian groups are responding after grants they were awarded last month from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help restore the Nineveh Plains and strengthen communities victimized by the Islamic State (IS) were criticized by media. 

Representatives from the Catholic University in Erbil (affiliated with the Chaldean Catholic Church) and the Shlama Foundation, a small Ankawa-based Christian nonprofit, are defending their organizations’ USAID grants after a lengthy ProPublica article questioned their validity.

The article in question was published Nov. 4 and titled “How Mike Pence’s Office Meddled in Foreign Aid to Reroute Money to Favored Christian Groups.”  Experts cited in the article take issue with the role that Vice President Pence’s office and political appointees played in ensuring USAID funding goes to Iraq-based Christian organizations trying to rebuild their communities.

Through interviews with 40 current and former U.S. officials and aid professionals, the article aimed to “shed new light on the success of Pence and his allies in influencing the government’s long-standing process for awarding foreign aid.” Concern was expressed by “career officials” that USAID could be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution for “favoring” Iraqi Christian groups for grants in a predominantly Muslim country.

But some religious freedom advocates say they feel that criticism of USAID funding going to these groups is an attempt to turn America’s bipartisan desire to aid religious minority communities decimated by IS and on the verge of extinction into a “partisan” issue.

“It is irrational, immoral and inconsistent with international human rights theory and policy to argue that the United States should not be helping Christians or a religious group targeted with religious genocide by ISIS,” international human rights lawyer Nina Shea, a senior fellow with the conservative think tank Hudson Institute, told The Christian Post.

“Their conclusion is that the US should not be helping genocide, religious genocide survivors because they are a religious group even though they were targeted for religious reasons.”

New Partnerships Initiative

Among other things, the ProPublica article called into question grants awarded to CUE and Shlama Foundation.

Both CUE and Shlama Foundation were announced last month as part of the first wave of grant recipients for the USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative. A combined total of $4 million was awarded between CUE, the Shlama Foundation and four other local organizations.

The Shlama Foundation will use the grant as it partners with solar companies to conduct solar training for engineers in the Nineveh Plains, who will conduct assessments and oversee the installation of solar systems in 100 homes, solar water pumps for 30 farms and solar street lights in public spaces.

The grant comes as consistent electricity has been a struggle for many across Iraq.

CUE, which was founded in 2015, received $700,000 to provide classes in business language and computer software for widows, victims and former captives of IS.

The ProPublica article reported a concern with the fact that USAID political appointees were involved in the grant approval process for the NPI grants. The article also made mention of the fact that both CUE and Shlama Foundation had no prior experience partnering with USAID.

But the NPI program was created specifically to help small local organizations that have never partnered with USAID. Through NPI, USAID will “direct awards to new and underutilized local organizations.”

“NPI is by design a capacity-building tool to help empower responsible local aid providers who do not have prior experience with unique USAID reporting systems,” CUE Vice-Chancellor Stephen Rasche told CP. “The intention is that by empowering local entities that efficiencies can be improved and the enormous overhead costs of US staffers can be reduced.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith