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Funds that Pence promised might finally be flowing to Iraq’s Christians


Gage Skidmore | CC BY SA 2.0

John Burger - published on 01/12/18 - updated on 01/12/18

US Agency for International Development announces reworked agreement with UN.

In a speech at an international conference on the persecution of Christians last October, Vice President Michael R. Pence promised that the U.S. would “stop funding ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations” and “provide support directly to persecuted communities” through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

That promise might finally be seeing fulfillment.

The USAID announced Monday that it came to an agreement with the United Nations Development Program to “increase assistance to Iraqis, particularly religious and ethnic minorities, to enable them to return to their homes in areas liberated from ISIS.” The announcement said that USAID “renegotiated the terms of its agreement to contribute to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) so that $55 million of a $75 million payment will address the needs of vulnerable religious and ethnic minority communities in Ninewa Province, especially those who have been victims of atrocities by ISIS.”

USAID said the modified agreement ensures that the U.S. contribution to the fund will help the populations in question “resume normal lives by restoring services such as water, electricity, sewage, health, and education.” It pointed out that the $75 million is the “first tranche” of $150 million announced for the FFS by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman last July.

The other $75 million will be paid if UNDP puts additional accountability, transparency, and due-diligence measures in place.

That’s important to people like Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, who has been a critic of UNDP for overlooking the needs of vulnerable Christian communities in Iraq.

“What concerns me is that the bulk of the money now for the Christians, the vast majority of it, is going to go through the UN,” Shea said in an interview Thursday.

She said that the wording in USAID’s press release that fulfillment of the rest of the pledge will depend on “UNDP’s success in putting in place additional accountability, transparency, and due-diligence measures for the FFS” is an admission that that accountability does not now exist.

“Why is the USAID still determined to work with this very flawed UN agency? There’s been a lot written about how they’ve repeatedly failed UN’s own internal audits,” Shea contended. “So we’re continuing to work through this agency as a middleman—because they don’t carry out the construction themselves, they don’t do the electric grids themselves; they hire contractors—we’re using the UN as a foundation to give money to these contractors. We could be doing the same thing” directly.

She worries that the continued use of UNDP as a middleman, even with the new conditions, will delay funding for a population that is increasingly giving up on their future in their ancestral homeland. Many are seeking to emigrate.

A USAID official said that the agency is working with UNDP to ensure its programs in Iraq are effective, and has put a variety of new oversight procedures in place through a written contract.

“This oversight includes strong measures to enhance transparency with donors, protect against the diversion of funds, improve anti-fraud efforts, and respond more comprehensively to the needs of vulnerable groups, such as Iraqi minorities,” the official said on background.

USAID Counselor Tom Staal told Fox News that procedures include the U.S. hiring of “third-party” — non U.N. — oversight of the agency’s work, and an arrangement that gives the U.S. agency’s Inspector General access to UNDP’s books, in addition to “more frequent, detailed reporting” on the agency’s work and progress.

In addition, Staal said, UNDP had added its own independent oversight and had banned sub-contracting on the Nineveh Plain projects, meaning that all contractors would report directly to the U.N. agency, Fox reported.

Staal said the $55 million was “specifically for minorities,” and that new agreements with UNDP even mentioned “specific towns” where the money was to be spent.

The UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization is only one piece of a broader funding package that the United States is supporting to directly assist ethnic and religious minority communities, including displaced Christians, the USAID official told Aleteia.

“This broader funding package for Iraq also includes $6.6 million in additional humanitarian assistance, $4 million in global health programming, and up to $35 million” in a “Broad Agency Announcement” to be announced in the spring that will fund NGOs’ “innovative ideas” supporting the resettlement of ethnic and religious minorities.

In spite of her concerns, Shea believes the USAID announcement represents a “sea change” in policy affecting Middle Eastern Christians because “just a few months ago … USAID was telling us it was unconstitutional” to earmark funding for them, “even though they had been designated as victims of genocide by the State Department.”

Still, the U.S. funding seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the needs on the ground. Mahdi al Allaq, secretary general of the Iraqi Council of Ministers, said that the reconstruction of the areas of Iraq reconquered after the years of jihadist rule will require at least $100 billion, according to Fides news agency. The World Bank and 70 countries, including the U.S., are expected to meet in Kuwait next month for an International Conference on the Reconstruction of Iraq, to work on finding more funding.

Christians in the Middle East
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