Congressman: Security, solidarity, and subsidiarity needed to rebuild Iraqi villages

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry holds a fragment of an Iraqi Christian altar destroyed by the Islamic State. Courtesy photo
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry holds a fragment of an Iraqi Christian altar destroyed by the Islamic State. Courtesy photo

.- Christian and Yazidi communities in northern Iraq need security as they rebuild, said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry after a trip to the region to assess economic aid delivery.

‘Without a new security apparatus,” economic aid “will not be sustainable,” Fortenberry told CNA on Aug. 17.

Fortenberry was in northern Iraq June 30-July 3 with USAID Administrator Mark Green and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to evaluate how U.S. aid money is being applied through multilateral organizations, such as the U.N., and to evaluate the situation of Iraqi minorities on the ground.

Fortenberry summarized his trip to Iraq in three words, “Possibility. Security. Urgency. Those are the three things that need to align.”

Economic aid needs to work in tandem with a new security framework led by the Iraqis that integrates local people, in addition to a multinational effort to directly aid the Christian and Yazidi communities in Northern Iraq, Fortenberry explained.

According to the U.S. State Department, “the United States has directed over $118 million to promote the safe return and reintegration of persecuted ethnic and religious communities to their ancestral homes in Iraq," since October 2017.

“Right now you have a fragmented situation. The Peshmerga forces with a certain line, Iraqi central government forces being augmented or even taken over by militia forces, including Iranian-backed militias,” Fortenberry said.

One possible solution is the creation of a multinational training mission in the Nineveh Plains and Sinjar region to work in union with the forces of the Iraq Central Government and the Peshmerga, integrating local indigenous people, he proposed.

“We tend to think of aid as our main mechanism by which we assist people, and of course, it is essential and important. But, without a security overlay and without a deeper understanding of the trauma that is there, we perhaps won’t fulfill the fullness of the potentiality of our generosity,” he said.

The Nebraska congressman returned from Iraq with a stone from an altar of an Iraqi church that had been destroyed and desecrated by the Islamic State, a gift from the priest at that church.

On Aug. 18, Fortenberry presented the stone to a local Knights of Columbus council in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska that raised over $150,000 last year to help with the reconstruction of several homes in Karamles, a mostly Christian town in northern Iraq.

Fortenberry said that he was deeply impressed by the “level of relationship” and “deep spiritual community partnership” formed between the Catholic communities in Fort Calhoun, NB and Karamles, Iraq.

“That’s subsidiarity and solidarity at work in its fullness,” said the congressman, who has a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville.

In his assessment of the aid situation of Iraq, Fortenberry spoke positively of faith-based entities ability to “deliver aid effectively, efficiently and quickly” on the ground while “standing in solidarity with the people who are suffering.”

“Organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Samaritan’s purse lead the way because everyone knows their intention – simply to do good out of love.”

The congressman recalled two experiences in which he experienced that sense of solidarity firsthand. One while attending a Mass in Aramaic at chapel of the Archbishop of Erbil.

The second reinforced the vital importance of protecting human dignity. Fortenberry  met with two Yazidi women who had been captured as sex slaves by the Islamic State with their children.

“One of the women had been sold ten times for sexual slavery by ISIS,” Fortenberry said. Her captors told her, “You are an apostate. You are our property.”

An estimated over 3,500 Yazidi women remain sex slaves for ISIS. “They are being brokered out by nefarious people who demand ransom,” explained Fortenberry, who said that some of these women are being ransomed out by their families for $20,000. These funds go to ISIS.

A medical doctor who serves these ransomed Yazidi women also spoke with the congressman.

She described their psychological trauma and “she told us something very profound,” said Fortenberry:

“It is easy to rebuild a building, but it is harder to rebuild a person.”

Tags: Catholic News, Iraq, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry