Have the ancient Christian communities in northern Iraq fallen prey to Iran’s radical Islamist aspirations?
Will Iran be permitted to complete its “Shi’a Crescent” or “land bridge,” stretching from Tehran through Iraq, into Syria and on into Lebanon, where Iran’s proxy Hezbollah already asserts enormous power?
Is President Donald Trump’s bold assertion that Iran will be denied hegemony in the Middle East being refuted by the facts on the ground?
Just last week, I wrote about the renewed hope that surged across displaced Christian communities in Iraq’s Nineveh Plain following Vice President Mike Pence’s encouraging speech at an Washington D.C. event.
On Oct. 25, to sustained applause, Pence announced that U.S. humanitarian funds would no longer be funneled through the United Nations. Instead they would be directed through USAID programs, benefiting charitable efforts including those of churches and other faith-based organizations.
It was a hopeful moment.
But on a cautionary note Fox News reported: "The first Iraqi Christians to return home after their village was freed from Islamic State control were forced to flee yet again….Between 700 to 1,000 Christian families have been forced to evacuate the village of Teleskof, an Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christian town about 19 miles north of Mosul…."
After that initial setback, the Christians that fled Teleskof were informed that successful negotiations had taken place and peace had been re-established; they could safely return to their homes.
Only a handful dared to return. Then, on Nov. 2, the Christians in Teleskopf fled for their lives once again.
This was particularly troubling, because Teleskopf has been the recipient of numerous heartfelt charitable efforts — comprising both international blood and treasure.
For instance, the people of Hungary invested $2 million in the reconstruction of homes for Teleskopf’s families.
The Knights of Columbus also provided for Teleskopf, along with neighboring Karamlesh. Carl Anderson, the organization’s CEO, explained: “The destruction of this town could have been in a very real way, the beginning of the end of Christianity in Iraq. There are so few of these towns left — each one is precious. While the peace is fragile, we are grateful for our government's attention to this issue."
A profound sacrifice took place on May 2, 2016, when U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating was gunned down by ISIS terrorists. The Washington Post reported Keating was engaged in advising Kurdish forces when he and other U.S. troops comprising a rescue force joined a battle that had been raging for two hours against 125 Islamic State fighters.”
Teleskof is a strategic town, and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have determined that the Iranian militias, who have already captured several nearby villages, must be stopped in their tracks.
Beginning in 2014, the battle for Northern Iraq and the Nineveh Plain was against ISIS. Then, on Sept. 25, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a referendum, voting to secede from Iraq and form an independent state.
Since that day, Baghdad’s government has been harshly pushing back against the Kurds, including the use of military force.
Ominously, although the troops attacking the Kurdish Peshmerga are loosely called the Iraqi Army, the most prominent militia, Hash’d al Shaabi, is Iranian-backed and Iranian-funded. It fights under its own Shi’a banners and not the Iraqi flag.
Some American diplomats appear to be watching impassively as this Iranian proxy attacks the same Peshmerga fighters who so valiantly and successfully battled against ISIS, guided by U.S. military Special Forces like SEAL Charles Keating. And make no mistake: If Iran succeeds in sweeping the map clear of Peshmerga, the fate of the world’s oldest Christian communities, whose only refuge lies in Kurd-controlled areas, will be sealed. Already decimated by the ravages of ISIS, they will have scant chance of survival.
According to Kurdistan’s Rudaw News Service, Rep. Trent Franks asked President Donald Trump on Nov. 1 to re-evaluate Iran's malicious influence in Iraq.
“I hope now that he listens to his own instincts rather than the D.C. establishment when it comes to recognizing the insinuation of the Iranian influence in Iraq,” said Franks, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee chairs the Missile Defense Caucus.
A harsher assessment came from Ben Cohen, writing for Algemeiner.
“Credible reports of murder, looting, and rape committed by Hash’d al Shaabi fighters have emerged from the Yazidi and Christian communities, who were already battered, abused, and enslaved by Islamic State.
“Rather than implementing the results of the independence referendum,” he added, “the Kurds have been press-ganged into ‘negotiations’ with Baghdad….The current plight of the Kurds is nothing other than a Western, and especially American, disgrace.”
Following President Trump’s powerful declaration that Iran’s drive for hegemony in the Middle East must be stopped, and after Vice President Pence’s heartening promise that America would provide direct aid to the Iraq’s displaced minorities, the future for Iraq’s Christians and other Middle East minorities seemed brighter.
But today? Not so much.
Indeed, when I asked a well-connected Middle East military expert what the future holds for Teleskopf and the Nineveh Plains’ Christian and Yazidi towns and villages, he shook his head sadly.
“It’s hard to say what comes next,” he told me. “But ultimately, it’s up to the Americans. And they’ve been very slow to respond. Sluggish, really….”
In the West, at least, no one doubts that the Americans mean well. But in the face of Iran’s aggression, those good intentions alone aren’t worth very much, frankly. After all, the road to perdition is paved with them.