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U.S. State Department Denies Middle East Christians Refugee Status

iraqi christiansThe NER November edition interview with U.S. Iraqi Christian leader Joseph T. Kassab, “Iraqi Christians Face Extinction” is illustrated by the experience of Syrian Christians  Nina Shea of the Center for Religious Freedom writes about them in a National Review on-line article published, today,  “The State Department Turns Its Back on Syrian Christians and Other Non-Muslim Refugees.”  Shea’s bottom line tells why so few imperiled Iraqi and Syrian Christians and other non- Muslim minorities have been admitted by our State Department for asylum as humanitarian refugees. They are largely ‘urban refugees’ as Kassab pointed out in our Iraqi Christian interview. They don’t qualify under UN rules that our State Department slavishly adheres to. One of our first NER articles in January 2008 drew attention to that problem, “Why Is the UN Determining Who Becomes Humanitarian Refugees in the US?

Note this exchange with Kassab in our interview about the quandary facing Iraqi Christian ‘urban refugees’ in the Kurdish Regional Government:

Gordon:  What are the current conditions of Iraqi Christian refugee camps in the Kurdish Region and what kinds of assistance are they receiving?

Kassab:  The current conditions for Iraqi Christian IDPs are very chaotic and horrific. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is doing its best to provide for them. However, they are unable to absorb more than 3 million refugees from Syria and Yazidis in their region. The Iraqi government has done nothing for its citizen IDPs. Corruption is very high among the Iraqi government officials and that by itself makes distribution of relief to its IDPs very poor. The UN and humanitarian local and international NGOs are unable to function properly due to lack of coordination and efficient capacity. Therefore people are losing hope and are availing of any opportunity to escape abroad. Christians are urban refugees-IDPs meaning that they do not live in UN refugee camps. Instead they seek shelter with relatives, in unfinished buildings, parks and churches. Overall, this support can be very short lived because volunteering always has a sunset.

Shea cites the paltry admissions of Syrian Christians and other minorities by the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration:

Over the past five years of Syria’s civil war, the United States has admitted a grand total of 53 Syrian Christian refugees, a loneYazidi, and fewer than ten Druze, Bahá’ís, and Zoroastrians combined. That so few of the Syrian refugees coming here are non-Muslim minorities is due to American reliance on a United Nations refugee-resettlement program that disproportionately excludes them. Past absolute totals of Syrian refugees to the U.S. under this program were small, but as the Obama administration now ramps up refugee quotas by tens of thousands, it would be unconscionable to continue with a process that has consistently forsaken some of the most defenseless and egregiously persecuted of those fleeing Syria.

The gross underrepresentation of the non-Muslim communities in the numbers of Syrian refugees into the U.S. is reflected year after year in the State Department’s public records. They show, for example, that while Syria’s largest non-Muslim group — Christians of the various Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions — constituted 10 percent of Syria’s population before the war, they are only 2.6 percent of the 2,003 Syrian refugees that the United States has accepted since then.

Here is the explanation given by a State Department official concerned about religious minorities:

In an e-mail to me, Knox Thames, the State Department’s new special adviser for religious minorities, wrote that “many minorities have not entered the UN system because they are urban refugees.” That is, because they live far from the remote U.N. camps and aid centers, they lack the information and access to register. And, as is widely known, many non-Muslim refugees try hard to avoid these camps.

Like Iraqi Christians who opt for church-run camps over better-serviced U.N. ones, Syrian minorities fear hostility from majority groups inside the latter. According to British media, a terrorist defector asserted that militants enter U.N. camps to assassinate and kidnap Christians. An American Christian aid group reported that the U.N. camps are “dangerous” places where ISIS, militias, and gangs traffic in women and threaten men who refuse to swear allegiance to the caliphate. Such intimidation is also reportedly evident in migrant camps in Europe, leading the German police union to recommend separate shelters for Christian and Muslim migrant groups.

Shea noted the response by the current UN High Commissioner for Refugees at a recent Washington conference:

At a discussion of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on October 27, I directly questioned U.N. High Commissioner António Guterres, an otherwise ardent advocate of diversity, about the short shrift that his office has given all Syria’s non-Muslim minority communities. His rambling reply failed to reassure. He said that, while some individuals should be resettled, as a Catholic he felt that Christians should not leave, because they’re part of the “DNA of the Middle East”; moreover, he said, Lebanon’s former president asked him not to resettle the Christians. Was he revealing a policy of religious bias and unlawful geo-political calculations for U.N. refugee determinations? Or was his sentiment a smokescreen behind which he was trying to flick off an issue he regarded as insignificant?

Like Iraqi Christian advocate Kassab, a prominent Chaldean Bishop in the Western US, Sarho Jammo, is “imploring that Christians be included in the new allotments for humanitarian refugees from the Middle East issued by the Administration.

Shea concludes:

According to a recent UNHCR posting, 19,000 Syrians picked straight from “refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan” have received U.N. approval and are awaiting resettlement in the U.S.  In October, President Obama ordered their expedited admission. Without further action, however, only token numbers of non-Muslim minorities will be among those rescued. George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury, called it right about the Christian refugees and his words equally apply to Syria’s other non-Muslim communities: They are being “left at the bottom of the heap.”

It is clear from both our NER interview with Kassab and Shea that without Congress amending the Refugee Act of 1980 the State Department is fostering the extinction of Middle East Christians by adhering to UNHCR allotment criteria. If they cannot be provided sanctuary and asylum in the US, under the current UNHCR definitions, then special waivers should be granted lifting those restrictions to utilize the special P2/P3 Family Reunification Visa program.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iraq on Brink of Disintegration: ISIS Blitzkrieg threatens Baghdad – Kurds Seize Kirkuk

The ISIS Jihad  blitzkrieg seized the oil-rich Northern Iraqi City of Mosul Wednesday, while the Iraqi Army fled. This leaving  nearly half a million civilians, Assyrian Christians among them,  to flee to rural areas of the province of Biblical Nineveh. ISIS is the Salafist –Jihadist Al Qaeda terrorist army, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham,the Levant.

ISIS has looted nearly a half billion in cash and tons of gold bullion making the terrorist army perhaps the largest well funded Al Qaeda affiliate.  Add to that the significant oil fields and Iraq’s largest refinery in Mosul, the ISIS literally may have the fuel to follow through with their threat to attack Baghdad. Mosul  was festooned with the decapitated heads of  Iraqi policemen. This despite Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki putting on a brave face calling upon his parliament to declare a state of national emergency. Now he has to rely on the loyalty of the US trained Iraqi army and militia from his Shia base to defend the capital.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Regional Government  (KRG) in Irbil dispatched its peshmerga forces to take over what they couldn’t do by plebiscite, the oil rich city of Kirkuk.  A Kirkuk that the Kurds consider as “their equivalent of Jerusalem”.  Now, as one report cited, just a mound of dirt separates Kurdish peshmerga from ISIS jihadi.

At risk is the future of this artificial country created by the British from the Mesopotamian Mandate of the League of Nations following WWI.   Ironically the US surge strategy of General Petreaus nearly a decade ago used nation building and bribery to defeat the al Qaeda forces in the Anbar provinces and Mosul.  Given current developments the  refusal of the Al Maliki government to negotiate a status of forces agreement with may have contributed to this looming debacle.  That choice was up to Maliki.  Because of these missteps we have looming a possible  Sunni Caliphate stretching across neighboring Syria deep into Iraq.  Today the picture gets even murkier as Iran announced dispatch of battalions of its  Quds Force to bolster the defense of Nouri al-Maliki’s beleaguered capitol.  This episode may rival the legendary history of the  sweep of the first Grand Jihad over 14 centuries ago. The Washington Post in a report today on these rapidly deteriorating developments in Iraq quoted President Obama saying:

“I don’t rule out anything, because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria,” Obama told reporters after a White House meeting with visiting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“I think it’s fair to say that . . . there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily, and our national security team is looking at all the options,” he said. “But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government” about the need for political accommodation between the country’s Shiite Muslim majority and the Sunni minority, he added.

ISIS loots Mosul Central bank

The International Business Time(IBT)  wrote of how much booty the ISIS secured in the capture of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul Seized: Jihadis Loot $429m from City’s Central Bank to Make Isis World’s Richest Terror ForceThe IBT reported:

Nineveh governor Atheel al-Nujaifi confirmed Kurdish television reports that Isis militants had stolen millions from numerous banks across Mosul. A large quantity of gold bullion is also believed to have been stolen.

Following the siege of the country’s second city, the bounty collected by the group has left it richer than al-Qaeda itself and as wealthy as small nations such as Tonga, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Falkland Islands.

The financial assets that ISIS  now possesses are likely to worsen the Iraqi government’s struggle to defeat the insurgency, which is aimed at creating an Islamic state across the Syrian-Iraqi border.

[…]

They also seized considerable amounts of US-supplied military hardware. Photos have already emerged of Isis parading captured Humvees in neighboring Syria where they are also waging war against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

What  is really worrisome is that the vast treasury that ISIS has seized that will enable them to  pay on average $600 a month to attract  thousands of  foreign jihadis, especially those in the West.

Just yesterday, ISIS forward elements seized Tikrit the ancestral home town of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, putting it less than 95 miles from Baghdad. ISIS has also surrounded the city of Samarra less than 70 miles from the nation’s capital.

http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2012/11/kirkuk754.jpg

Kurdish peshmerga troops in Kirkuk. Source: ekurd.net.

Kurdish Peshmerga Seize Kirkuk

The autonomous KRG Peshmerga forces went into action today seizing a virtually defenseless Kirkuk. The KRG had been thwarted by the Al Maliki government from conducting a plebiscite to take back this resource rich original part of the Kurdish homeland.    The Guardian’s report conveys the sense of how rapidly Iraqi forces had abandoned the defenseless city,  Kurdish Peshmerga seize a chaotic victory in Kirkuk:

Capturing the city and its huge oil reserves, just outside the area controlled by the KRG, is a huge achievement. Yet victory looks far from glorious or orderly.

[…]

On Thursday Kurdish officials said they had stepped in to protect the city after government troops fled before advancing rebels from the Sunni jihadi group Isis.

Locals alleged that weaponry inside the K1 base had been seized by Kurdish Peshmerga forces belonging to both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the two main political forces in the KRG. But in the confusion of Iraq’s deepening crisis it is hard to be quite certain.

[…]

“There are no security concerns at this moment and the situation is calm in the city,” said Dler Samad, the Kirkuk governor’s press officer. The governor, Dr Najmadin Karim, had visited Peshmerga forces near Hawija, just 3km away from ISIS units. But a minister responsible for regional security forces survived a bomb blast as he drove into Kirkuk.

Chaldean Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona of Mosul, Iraq. Sourcs CNS Church in Need Service.

The ISIS threat to Christians in Nineveh

We have written extensively of the flight of the beleaguered  Assyrian Christians. A report by Nina Shea in the National Review On-line depicted the crisis that this ancient Christian community faces  in the midst of  the ISIS jihadist onslaught, The Cleansing of Iraq’s Christians Is Entering Its End Game.  Shea wrote:

Mosul’s panic-stricken Christians, along with many others, are now fleeing en masse to the rural Nineveh Plain, according to the Vatican publication Fides. The border crossings into Kurdistan, too, are jammed with the cars of the estimated 150,000 desperate escapees.

[…]

Since 2003, Iraq’s Christian community has suffered intense religious persecution on top of the effects of the conflict and, as a result, it has shrunk by well over 50 percent. Mosul, the site of ancient Nineveh of the Assyrians, who converted to Christianity in the first century, has become the home of many Christians who remained. Considered by Christians the place of last resort inside Iraq, Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Plain has been home to many Christian refugees driven out of Baghdad and Basra.

ISIS on the march

Sources: The Institute for the Study of War, The Long War Journal. The Washington Post. Published on June 11, 2014, 9:37 p.m. For a larger view click on the map.

Who do you pin the blame on?

Earlier we  noted the failure of the Maliki government to conclude a status of forces agreement when the remaining US forces left three years ago. This was just as the civil war in Syria arose in bloody earnest that spawned ISIS’ terrorist Jihad in the region.  The Wall Street Journal cited Sen. McCain and  House Speaker John Boehner laying blame on Obama, while the Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees, Republican Rep. Buck McKeon and  Democrat Sen.Carl Levin held differing views:

Several top Republican congressional leaders Thursday blamed President Obama for what they called policy failures leading to the collapse of Iraqi armed forces and the fall of major Iraqi cities to the control of Islamist militants.

[…]

“Now they’ve taken control of Mosul, they’re 100 miles from Baghdad. And what’s the president doing? Taking a nap,” Mr. Boehner said.

Mr. McCain said the administration’s decision to leave in 2011 was politically motivated.

“The trouble is, as the events of this week show, what the Americans left behind was an Iraqi state that was not able to stand on its own,” he said. “What we built is now coming apart.”

He said the U.S. must “take immediate action” to head off the militants’ advance, and reconsider the decision by Mr. Obama to wind down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan in 2016.

[…]

Rep. Buck McKeon (R., Calif.), who heads the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters that he opposed airstrikes and any additional involvement by the U.S. in a crisis that has seen Sunni militants and Kurdish military units make incursions around the country. Iraq’s government had a chance to sign a status-of-forces agreement with the U.S. but didn’t, Mr. McKeon said.

“We lost a lot of blood, a lot of treasure there and gave them an opportunity and they wouldn’t sign the agreement,” Mr. McKeon said, adding that any assistance would add another strain to the military when officials are trying to slim down budgets. “They all take money, they all take resources, they all put people at risk.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the Senate armed services panel, blamed Iraq’s government for not doing enough to unify the country and stave off sectarian violence. He also questioned whether U.S. airstrikes would be effective given that Iraqi security forces, he said, have “melted away” in some places.

“While all options should be considered, the problem in Iraq hasn’t been so much a lack of direct U.S. military involvement, but a lack of reconciliation on the part of Iraqi leaders,” Mr. Levin said.

Fred Kaplan in Slate had views close to that of McKeon and Levin in an article, “If jihadists control Iraq, blame Nouri al-Maliki, not the United States”.  Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. After reviewing the success of General Petreaus’ surge in the western provinces and Mosul, Kaplan concludes about the current debacle:

Maliki has his own political problems. His party won a plurality of votes in the recent election, but not enough to declare victory…. The threat from ISIS—and it’s now a dire threat—might move some factions to strengthen the nation’s leader, or it might move more to abandon all confidence in Maliki and turn to someone else.

One hope for Iraq is that ISIS might have gone one rampage too far. While stomping through Mosul, some of their militiamen stormed the Turkish consulate and kidnapped Turkish diplomats. Under international law, that amounts to an attack on Turkey, and it’s unlikely that the Turks will simply shrug. Iran, which has emerged as Maliki’s main ally, has no interest in seeing Sunnis regain power in Baghdad. A strange alliance among all three may come to life to beat back this equally strange insurgency.

With news today that Iran is sending battalions of its elite Quds Force to fight in Iraq, Kaplan’s views appear like grasping a thin reed. Supplying more US military aid and perhaps air resources by the Obama Administration may not even put a dent into the ISIS Jihadist blitzkrieg poised to possibly conduct a siege on the capital.  Iraq is for all intents and purposes a failed state. The world and we in America will pay for its possible demise with a spike in both oil and gas prices. Time for us to bolster the independence of Kurdistan and let the Shia provinces become veritable client states of Iran, while a Jihadist  Sunni Emirate arises. Saudi Arabia will doubtless consider its options with  the failure of Iraq further endangering the Gulf region and its oil fields. Could a regional war of global proportions be in the offing?

Will the US Embassy in Baghdad be evacuating before being overwhelmed? Stay tuned for developments.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Jihadist behind takeover of Mosul released from U.S. custody in 2009
Iraq Isis Crisis: Medieval Sharia Law Imposed on Millions in Nineveh Province
Obama: “The World Is Less Violent Than It Has Ever Been”
Decapitated heads of policemen and soldiers line the streets of Mosul as ISIS imposes Sharia

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Hillary”s State Department was “delusional” on Boko Haram

Earlier today when we posted on Hollywood’s ‘sudden awareness’ about Sharia, we noted the comments from last nights Fox News The Kelly File about former Secretary of State Clinton contesting requests from the CIA, FBI, National Counter-terrorism Center to designate Nigerian Jihadist group, Boko Haram, “a foreign terrorist organization.” Nina Shea, noted human rights lawyer and, director of the Washington, DC -based Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, who we also positively cited in our post, revealed in a National Review On-line  post, just how delusional the State Department was under Clinton’s leadership on this issue.

Our take,  Clinton was reflecting the Administration’s obsessive redaction of any reference to Islamic doctrine as the wind behind the sails of this murderous band of terrorists. Secretary Clinton held hearings in December 2011 with representatives of  the EU, OSCE and members of the  Saudi-based Organization for Islamic Cooperation. They were endeavoring to prefect implementation of the UN Human Rights Council Res.16/18 on Combating Religious Intolerance  – a thinly disguised version of  a global Sharia Blasphemy code. Shea, whose interview is included in our collection, The West Speaks, was present at those State Department Istanbul Process proceedings. In our post on that State Department conference, Shea called it ‘perverse.”  In response to her New York Post op ed on those State Department proceedings we wrote:

The Istanbul Process is not only perverse but an affront to our Constitutional rights of free speech under the First Amendment. We await confirmation of how perverse the Washington Istanbul process conference was when exposure drafts of the “best practices” of combating alleged religious intolerance are released early next year [2012]. They should be the subject of intense scrutiny in hearings by Congress.

History will show that Congress did little to expose the OIC -backed UN proposals. The Administration went about its way redacting DoD, FBI and DHS counter-terrorism manuals of any references to Islam, Jihad and Sharia. The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder subsequently enforced those delusional views.

Here is Shea’s NRO post on the State Department  evasion of the realities of  Boko Haram as a global terrorist organization under Secretary Clinton.

nina shea

Nina Shea, Director, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom

NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE

MAY 9, 2014 5:35 PM

The Obama State Department’s Understanding of Boko Haram Was Even More Delusional than You Thought
By Nina Shea

A news article in today’s New York Times sets out to explore why the United States waited until November 2013 to designate Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization.” In light of the group’s latest atrocity – the kidnapping and enslaving of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria’s Borno state last month –this is a very good question.

The article makes the point that the terrorist designation was made after Hillary Clinton resigned as secretary of state, and confirms reporting that it came after a two-year debate in which “the Justice Department, the F.B.I., American intelligence officials and counterterrorism officials in the State Department” all called for the designation but State ultimately opposed it.

Clinton’s then–assistant secretary for African affairs, Johnny Carson, tells the Times that State opposed the designation for “for six or seven different reasons,” which boil down to an equal measure of fear of the affect on Boko Haram, possibly making it seem more important and popular, and wariness of legitimizing a Nigerian government crackdown. State counterterrorism official Daniel Benjamin essentially gives a “what difference does it make?” shrug, stating: “Designation was one of many tools and not the most urgently needed one in dealing with the Nigerians. ”

That ends the article’s probe. But a review of the State Department’s actual statements  from that era would have revealed a flawed official analysis of the situation that is more disturbing.

In 2012,  the State Department was declaring that Boko Haram was motivated not by Islamic extremism, but by anger at “poor government service delivery” and “poverty” generally.  Its policy was to actively oppose Nigerian military involvement and support greater American aid and investment to the country, particularly to the areas giving  rise to Boko Haram militants.

As I wrote on the Corner on April 12, 2012:

The day after [an Easter Sunday] Nigeria church bombing, at a forum on U.S. policy toward Nigeria held at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, overlooking Boko Haram’s self-proclaimed identity, pattern of behavior, statements and very name, which means “Western education is a sin,” publicly denied that Boko Haram has religious motives. He went out of his way to stress: “Religion is not driving extremist violence in . . . northern Nigeria. Carson is articulating official U.S. policy. Its theory is that Boko Haram is “exploiting religious differences” to “create chaos” to protest “poor government service delivery,” poverty, and a variety of good-governance concerns.

The State Department attributed the phenomenon of Boko Haram to the poverty and low levels of literacy in the north, rather than the other way around. Briefing an audience that was specifically interested in strategic insights,  he described the U.S. policies then in place for Nigeria. As Carson itemized:

We have provided technical assistance to support reform in the power sector. We have taken a large energy trade mission to the country, and encouraged the swift passage of a strong petroleum industry bill that brings more transparency to the sector. We have recognized the importance of Nigeria’s agriculture sector and supported Nigeria’s comprehensive agriculture development plans. And in the health sector, we have committed over $500 million a year to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, demonstrating how critical we consider Nigeria in the worldwide fight against HIV and AIDS.

All the programs Carson specifically named were directed to economic and health development, some of which may have actually created financial incentives for more Boko Haram violence. He stressed this was important “particularly in the disadvantaged North of Nigeria where Boko Haram finds support.” Carson made a point of stating that U.S. policy was to press Nigeria to “de-emphasize the role of the military.” (All of this could have been scripted from the MoveOn.org petition campaign on Nigeria at the time.)

The U.S. State Department’s delay in giving “terrorist” designation to Boko Haram had real policy consequences. It helped the Obama campaign narrative that al-Qaeda was on the run. But it didn’t help Nigeria, whose girls and boys, men and women, Christians and Muslims are now paying with their lives and living in dread of a larger, more powerful Boko Haram.

RELATED STORIES:

Cohen: Hillary Clinton failed Nigerian girls | Boston Herald
FACT SHEET: Boko Haram Nigerian Islamist Group – Clarion Project

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.