A conversation with Nadine Maenza, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Internation Religious Freedom


On April 28, 2022, Rudaw Research Center (RRC) held A conversation with Nadine Maenza, Chair of the U.S. Commission on Internation Religious Freedom about Religion freedom in Iran, Syria, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.


On April 25, 2022, the USCIRF published its annual report on religious freedom internationally, which oversees religious freedom in more than 29 countries worldwide and is affiliated with the U.S. State Department. To further highlight the content of the 2022 report on religious freedom in Iran, Syria, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, the Rudaw Research Centre has organized a webinar for Nadine Maenza -Chair of U. S. Commission on international religious freedom, with the participation of Amir Osman – director of coexistence at the Ministry of Endowments and Sara Dilshad – a member of Kurdistan parliament from the Turkmen block and Dr Mamou Farhan Osman, a University lecturer and Yezidi Kurdish activist, and moderated by Nwener Fatih.
According to the 2022 report, “Include Iraq on the U.S. Department of State’s Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom according to the International Religious Freedom Act”.
At the beginning of her speech, Nadine Maenza -Chair of the U. S. Commission on international religious freedom, mentioned that their institution is independent. The report was published on April 25, 2022. It is about last year, from January 2021 to December 2021. We also do most of our work outside of public appearances, as I had yesterday at Congress on how the United States can influence the development of religious freedom in the world.

Further, the report highlights that “in 2021, religious freedom conditions in Iraq improved slightly but remained concerning. The Iraqi Federal Government (IFG) and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) took several positive steps. In March, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi designated March 6 as a national holiday to celebrate the country’s ethnic and religious diversity. In March, Iraq’s Parliament passed the Yazidi Survivor Law to compensate members of the Yazidi community. In October, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani declared Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, a district, giving its residents more authority in their local affairs. However, nearly five years after the United States and its allies declared ISIS defeated, religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq continue to struggle to return and live peacefully in their homes. Almost one million Sunni Arab Muslims, over 200,000 Yazidis, tens of thousands of Christians, and smaller numbers of Kaka’is, Turkmen, and others remain forcibly displaced. Renewed ISIS attacks in 2021 reignited fear among religious and ethnic minorities seeking to return and rebuild their homes in former ISIS-controlled areas. Militias, some backed by foreign actors such as Iran and operating under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)—also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs)—routinely targeted Sunni Arab Muslims and accused them of affiliation with ISIS”.

Also, about religious freedom in Iran, Syria and Iraq, Nadine Maenza said that “Some countries have remained the same or have made little progress like Iraq, which is relatively good, but the situation is terrible in a country like Iran and North Korea, where Baha’is and others are being executed in Iran, and religious freedom is still in danger in Syria,”.

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Nwenar Fatih: Okay, welcome, everybody; hello, my name is Nwenar Fatih, a host from Rudaw Media Network. I’ll be hosting today’s webinar at Rudaw Research Center. Today, we will discuss religious freedom, freedom in practice and beliefs, individuals and minority groups in Iraq and violations against religious freedom in Iraq, including Kurdistan Region, Iran and Syria. We are pleased to have Nadine Maenza- the U. S. Commission on international religious freedom, with us today to discuss this topic. Thank you, Maenza. The U.S. commission gives us a small introduction to it. The U.S. Commission on international religious freedom is an independent, bipartisan U. S. federal government agency created by the 1998 international sacred freedom act USCIRF monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or the belief abroad and makes policy recommendations to the president of the United States, secretary of state and the Congress of the United States, and trucks the implementations of these recommendations. In its 2022 report, a recent one, the USCIRF includes groups in Iraq on the particular watch list for engaging in or tolerating violations of religious freedom.

Meanwhile, it states that in 2021 religious freedom conditions in Iraq improved slightly but remain concerning. The report says militias, some backed by foreign actors such as Iran and operating under the popular mobilization forces PMF, routinely targeted Sunni Arabs Muslims and accused them of affiliation with ISIS. Also, PMF regularly used checkpoints to stop and harass Sunni Arab Muslims returning to their territories once controlled by ISIS. According to the report, these militias reportedly used similar tactics against other religious minorities, including Yazidi, Christians and Kakai and others. The Iraqi government continued to allow these groups to operate with impunity. Many Iraqi Christians remain displaced by the PMF if making returns to their homes in the Nainawa place in northern Iraq extremely difficult. The report also states Ongoing airstrikes in the north of Iraq by the Turkish military against alleged positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Sinjar Resistance Unit (YBS) for its apparent alignment with the PKK further impeded religious freedom improvement in 2021. These operations disproportionately impacted ethnic and religious minority groups, particularly Yazidis, in Sinjar and Dohok, impeding their ability to resettle in their original communities and worship safely. The reports focus on the disputed areas between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan regional government. Well, it’s recommended the U. S. government, U. S. diplomatic. Other available channels encourage the IFG Iraqi federal government and the KRG to resolve a conflict over the disputed area in article 140 of the Iraqi constitution while including all religious and ethnic minorities and comprehensively implementing this Sinjar security agreement with full inclusion of the Yazidi community in particular.

In Iran and Syria, religious freedom conditions are poor. According to the reports in Iran, the government continues to respond to calls for reform by systematically cracking down on religious minorities. The government uses its official religious interpretation of the Islamic faith as an ongoing basis for denying freedom of religion and belief to citizens who express deserve through peaceful protest. And religious freedom in Syria remains under serious threat; this is what the report says, particularly amid the country’s ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis.

Today in this webinar, we will be joined in with Miss Sara Dilshad, a Member of Kurdistan Parliament from the Turkmen block, also Mr Ameer Othman, director of coexistence at the Ministry of Endowments at the Kurdistan regional government, and Dr Mamou Farhan Othman, Yazidi activist, he is joining us virtually from Duhok. Nadine Maenza, Chair of the U.S. Commission on international religious freedom, gives us a brief. Thank you for your time. We are so pleased to have you. You’ll have about 10 minutes to introduce the critical finding of the recent reports, especially what’s related to Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Nadine Maenza: Thank you so much for that beautiful introduction, thank you also for doing such a good summary of those chapters, and we do try our annual report, as you know, just came out on Monday, and that this is looking a snapshot of religious freedom from January to December of last year, so we’re looking at that list room conditions around the world and as he mentioned the US commission on international religious freedom are independent bipartisan government agencies. So while we are part of the US government but are separated, we assess spiritual freedom conditions on our own, we have our research staff, we meet with religious communities, human rights activists, government officials on our own and then we put out a record-making recommendation to our government and that the majority of what we do a lot of what we do is behind the scenes. You know I’m often meeting with members of the government, let’s just on Capitol Hill yesterday, so having these conversations about how the US government can incentivize and help move countries towards religious freedom and even just looking at that the countries that you’re mentioning it show just how complicated is every country is so unique you know our recommendations for this reporting bodies have dug up in and see it. At this point, it’s only been English, but we will have it up in Kurdish and Arabic soon, so it will be a lot easier to share, and I’ll make sure on Twitter that once those go up, they also share. The report mainly mandates the report of a user to this annual report, and then we make recommendations that the state department should place on the country particular concern the CBC last and then on a special watch list. In the country but the specific situation that the test for that is a country that either tolerates or commits themselves severe religious violations of religious freedom that are egregious systematic and ongoing, so it has to those three criteria and especially the country that needs to watch list but let’s see two not 3 of those the CDC test. In so, we’ve made a recommendation 4 of 15 countries for the country particular concern 5; of those are not currently being designated by the US government, which would be Afghanistan, India and Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam, and then on our special watch list, it’s interesting only for the country’s we’ve recommended have three that have been added by the US government and most the countries that we recommend for the specialists have not been put on Iraq would be one of those countries as well as checking and so you know our takeaways, one of the big takeaways from the report for me was while there are some bright spots. It’s important to see those if you look through you know the first line of each word, as you’d mentioned less that the trajectory of that country it’s getting better slightly worse the same. Only showing any positive in Iraq was one of them. It wasn’t extreme, and right it was tiny when we say it improved slightly, but a lot of the countries stayed the same. Still, it remained the same as one of the worst violators in the world like North Korea Iran pretty much stayed the way the same, but Iran has been so poor that it would be hard for that to get, and terry it’s much more, of course as you mentioned you know Syria remains threatened.

I think with you know Iran, what we saw was increased persecution of Baha’is and Christians primarily converts mistreatment of soupy prisoners the denying of rights of women. So. We’ve also seen another thing that sets this concern: a step up in the harassment any raunch and some amendments to the laws themselves. Articles for 99 and 500 of the Iran pen code impose prison time on those guilty of quote insulting Islam. And so you know what you’re seeing is not only. You know about harassment but little about instituting those into law which is very problematic. In April, the Iran criminal court sentenced two men to death for insulting the prophet and then held up those sentences in August. Hence, we continue to be concerned about Iran, and of course, it makes some pretty strong recommendations to the US government because it’s a complex country for the US government. After all, they don’t have relations. Still, there are a lot of countries the U. S. does; for instance, the US is part of the just international freedom of belief alliance with 34 other countries. A lot of those countries do have strong relationships with Iran. They can be one of those countries that can help step in and incentivize Iran to allow broader religious conditions and not to target these communities.

As you mentioned, we continue to see poor and threatening conditions in Syria. President Assad pretends to be the protector of religious minorities, especially Christians. When in fact, when you look at his record, so many of these listings communities have been targeted, their churches have been destroyed by the horrific civil war that he has taken no care at all to protect them and also is taken over choosing religious leaders is forcing the Yazidi entities to follow Islam and not be able to identify the Yazidi and follow sharia. So it’s very clear that Assad does not represent religious freedom and of course in a just a Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib is with this year we saw it was a horrific crimes against Christians in particular harassment there, and in the areas of Turkey has invaded of course in Syria are horrific and you know as I often say are closer to the ISIS caliphate then one would expect from a NATO ally and so we’re very concerned about extreme Tall Tamr and Sari Kani in the conditions there for you cities Christians really any minority there at all and it really all the people there have lost their freedoms and of course you know as as we pointed out in autonomies administration in northen area of Syria we continue to see them embrace religious pluralism and bad in every layer of their governance and it’s a specially interesting to see those areas grow in it in the Arab areas that they didn’t historically have those kind of conditions and how they’ve embraced also religious freedom and we’ve made some really strong recommendations in Syria for the US government to lift sanctions on the North East to give them political recognition just as all state obviously they do not want to be a country but by the state in the future Syria, in really the point being to be a part of a few of political solution, currently they’re not.

Of course, in Iraq, as we mentioned and try and improve slightly, and it’s just looking through. There were last I don’t, and seem to be fewer attacks against religious minorities, but still, the harassment continued then in Nainawa Plain. We appreciate that the US government debt and sanctioned the PMF leader in January of last year because of the crimes committed in the Nainawa plain. That was a significant action by the US government. You know I think the pope’s visit was at a critical moment and we hope that they’ll be some truth from that and of course in the KRG region we consider continue to see favourable conditions and appreciate that the KRG minister been dominant religious affairs, and knowledge’s a religions financially supports 3 of them we know that there are still IDPs camps there, you know we have of course there is no government is perfect and so we always make recommendations to all of them and you know take continued it took special include their most significant minorities and the economic community in government so that they’ll stay and be able to have a future in the KRG because it currently and Iraq proper it’s tough for religious minorities certainly they have not been able to return to the Nainawa plain because of these militias we talked about so I’m glad to talk further I can obviously speak endlessly on these big countries and then I close to my heart but I would love to hear from other guests instantly be willing to answer questions thank you.

Nwenar Fatih:  thank you. One more question regarding the report outcomes was fascinating for me. Statements about your Iraq mention a growing number of atheists and agnostics in Iraq. How was that monitored in Iraq, is it in a specific region in Iraq, South or north or central Iraq, and how could usually people when, if they have those beliefs or if they have no beliefs in Iraq, usually they might be afraid to expose it and talk about it. How you are monitored, and in general, can you just in 2 minutes tell us how do you generally watch religious freedom on what do you, or like what the facts that you rely on are, it is reported from the local government, or you have your observers in Iraq and other places?

Nadine Maenza: Those are great questions. we count on the US government and different data collections for this kind of statistics about the population, and so I do believe that those are numbers the US government is reported in terms of the atheist, and I’m not sure I do know you know we’ve seen an increasing convert as well from Islam, but as you mentioned you know I think atheists agnostics converts are going to keep quiet about that so it’s hard to see where they are mainly, but we do here, and I’ve certainly met people that fit all those categories, but you wouldn’t know it, and they certainly don’t advertise that. You know we have a small staff that you serve there’s only 20 on our professional team in addition to the 9 commissioner so we don’t you know we have one or 2 people working on each country and in each analyst has a few countries and so clearly we count on a civil society, count on you know when I’m in it we try to do visits, we haven’t been able to do any for 2 years and we just got back from an official visit to Oz Pakistan which I’m obviously as you know I’ve come in my own capacity and collecting information and so like that I would come back integrations inside information I gather so we meet with civil society we indeed invite people that are visiting the United States or that even want to do is your call with the user research team to report information that they’ve gathered and knowledge. I think it’s important you know we meet with different religious communities here about their struggles and healthy recommendations they have we meet with the US government on the ground we need the US government in the state department is working on these countries so we really try to use a lot of different formation to come put these pieces together some of them like Iraq’s little more accessible in the sense that we’re able to visit and have open conversations, but Iran’s will more challenging we obviously don’t visit Iran but having said that there are also some very strong organizations both represent religious communities as well as human rights that do pretty deep dives and they’re reporting and are able to help inform the situation on the ground.

Nwenar Fatih: Thank you very much. Now we will move to questions; well, we’ll take the questions I think each by each that would be better okay, let’s start with the. Dr Mamou, he’s not with us so let’s start from the further one. Dr Mamou, do you have any questions for Nadine Maenza?

Dr Mamou  Farhan: Yes, thank you very much for having me and thanks to Miss Nadine Maenza for her reports. We appreciate their attention and concern about the minorities, but we should keep in mind that there is diminishing minorities’ growth, and they are leaving the country and migrating. Also, keep in mind that ideas the number of Yazidi is about half a million, and 150000 they left the country the Christian 35 years ago, they were 1 million, they are only 300 hundred thousand. Also, Kakai diminished, so there should be a concern about how to ensure their existence and that they are afraid and they are not sure that another group will attack them like ISIS. ISIS is defeated militarily, both not ideologically and verbally. It is going to treat it means they will appear again on the surface; this should be an international commitment to protect the minority in general. I’m not speaking only about Yazidi but other minorities. And one of the continuously giving speeches that the country, then should the whole Iraq speciality be only one colour instead of at least a flower box. So it would be straightforward for the extremists who took over the power, and then it is out. When we talked about minorities, we talked about culture, and culture cannot survive without freedom. Freedom comes from issuing shooting or from a state that empowers the law’s role; again, strong bones from the state. Hence, it’s a kind of awareness it kind of consciousness it takes time. We are not sure that yet the minorities in general resolved, or without protecting them or without ensuring the existence I think will continue giving in Iraq. so one of the suggestions is to provide or to establish a kind of self-ward region in the Nainawa, it should be connected the regional government of Kurdistan and be accepted by the central government. Also, are there some concerns, Miss Maenza, that a thriving community unique to the USA is trying to protect the minority in Iraq and all of those procedures or requirements?

Nadine Maenza Yeah, that. I do. I read a lot over the years about it. I desire to see the self-governance of the minority communities, both Christians and Christian Chaldeans, in the Nineveh Plains and the Yazidi. It’s one of those things that I would have been looking for. Also, Looking back is so easy to do when the US-occupied Iraq and when the US was on the ground there all the time. The US considered, and I knew people were fighting for it, and it was just a disappointment to look back. We do have to admit that the U. S. and, you know, has a whole record of failures in their policy with Iraq. Well, so much came with good intentions. I have not left Iraq in better shape and not the religious minority communities. So you know, I still believe that the Assyrian Christian Chaldean community and the Yazidi community should have a say in their governance. When you look internationally at these areas, you’re going to see this instability in places where people do have a say in their management. The US government still has the power to pressure Iraq toward this kind of decision; there needs to be signed as early work on the ground. Unfortunately, these communities are a little bit more United in wanting to see this administration other than what province, depending on what you’re going to call it.

 I think it is the next question is it, you know, administrative area like, and how is it more of a province and indeed, the circuits during Assyrians Chaldean need to unite in deciding what they want. I think what we’ve seen is in that community some different ideas of what they wanted, and it’s not the kind of thing that we in the United States can create for someone. And then expect for it to the final list of people on the ground are also bound into it. So I would love to see that these continue to be investigated. I do believe with the numbers with the Yazidi communities, there are enough of there, but then again, when you look at Sinjar there, you know, and this is where, which is why we put Iraq on the particular watch list because wait while we’re not seeing the Iraq government persuade targeting religious minorities they are allowing Sinjar to be a place where all of these armed groups, and where Turkey continues to detest Shangal airstrike. All sorts of activities that are counter to being able to resettle in minorities and will not allow them to return their home, back to these reasons I talked about. You know, I would strongly support self-governance for both communities in Iraq, and I think a lot of people in the US would and I feel so we should keep talking about and see what that looks like; it is the part of the problem, of course, like to Sinjar agreement is such a disappointment, of course, it just came out as everyone did in planning, and you know we support it, but it disappointed the Yazidi community because they weren’t involved that in preparing it. Again, this happens when people make decisions for the communities and then wonder why they don’t work. That was a disappointment that it was decided without the Iraqi Yazidi communities. Still, of course, you know the first part of the agreement as to you know to pull back and that the armed forces and we’ve seen them willing to pull back and that the Iraqi government unwilling to force that so that that remains a problem it’s something to work through. However, I still think it’s worth pushing ahead to see how we can make this happen.

Dr Mamou Farhan: I agree with you about what seems obvious but couldn’t get to the absolute imperative well, now the needful countries are all fighting there, so there should be a kind of the political solution instead of a military one, but the idea is that how you ensure the rest of Yazidi, and other minorities especially all of them that are part of the border for the article 140 and it will not be solved shortly. Also, Christia they have a lobby and others. However, Yazidis are still in a misconception, and we are targeting more than other minorities, so what do we need to stay here in the homeland and be protected? There should be a commitment that we can somehow continue leaving our land?

Nadine Maenza: I agree with you that the international community has failed, and I am sorry for that; you know, it’s frustrating every year to hear the speeches, and that’s no action from these governments in natural support for the Yazidi community, and so I agree with you and hope that as more and more understanding be rising up., I’ve certainly seen on Capitol Hill more interest and more support in a scene the lack of progress for the Yazidi community here in Washington. So I do believe that the international community must stand up with the Yazidi community to force a political solution for Sinjar.

Nwenar Fatih, thank you thanks a lot Dr Mamou; now, miss Sara, do you have any questions to ask Miss Maenza. Sarah, she will ask in Kurdish. I will translate it immediately.

Sara Dilshad: So, she’s a member of the Kurdistan Parliament; as I mentioned previously, she’s from the Turkmen block one. Also, there are 11 members from ethnic and minority groups in the Kurdistan parliament. Also, there is a law in Kurdistan, specifically about how to protect the ethnic groups in Kurdistan. This law focuses on ethnic groups and religious groups as well. The law addresses the rights of the ethnic and all the minority groups in Kurdistan. Also, it gives the right to those groups to ask for compensation for what they have seized from attacks speciality in the year of the war against ISIS.

Ameer Othman: thank you, Nadine Maenza, my friend. She is a prominent figure on religious freedom globally, and her reports are always fair when talking about religious groups and minorities in Iraq and the Region.

Kurdistan region is part of Iraq, and when we see the reports about Iraq, we are so glad to read that in the report Kurdistan Region is being mentioned as a haven for minorities, IDPs, and refugees also or who are entirely persecuted because of their beliefs and religion and we also thanks Miss Nadine for her reports because when she talks about Iraq in the Region, this point about the Kurdistan region has always been mention.

Kurdistan Region always opens its gates to all the refugees and IDPs. After that giant wave of extremism came into Iraq, entry from Syria, we also got from Iraq. However, there was a lot of pressure economically and politically, regional and international, even domestically on each Kurdistan Region. Still, the Kurdistan region has to ensure their safety and keep them a haven. Also, the Kurdistan region always has its plan and works earnestly to fight extremism with increased Region on its continued commitment. The other point in the report mentions that there are three directorates of Yazidi, Muslims and Christians in the ministry of the endowment. Still, we have the other five directorates for all the beliefs and the other religions in the Kurdistan region. And also, the Ankawa district, as a decision of his excellency Masrour Barzani issued and changed from a sub-district into a district so that Christians would have the right to have played more requests and have more freedoms with the governments themselves and make their own decisions with their area.

 Nadine Maenza: Yes, we did call out the Ankawa; however, an even our reports as being at a positive development in Iraq, we did also in March a country update because a little deeper into the KRG conditions and does mention the aids directorates the three they’re fine and then the other five that he’d say so I did not mention that report our annual report is pretty limited to just two pages like 1800 words so make it harder to get into all the details, so we try to the top lines.

Ameer Othman: Kurdistan Region as part of Iraq, always there were problems in Iraq because Iraq as a state since its establishment it’s always having issues with when it comes to religious freedom and freedom of the minorities on two levels at first mentally as the society on the second level is the political way, always this is the problem and how to deal with this. Hence, this was not a problem in the Kurdistan region. It always worked into being more moderate and more open to this notion like religious freedom and freedoms for minorities. Now the Kurdistan region is working hard with the Iraqi government to enforce these rights in all the areas that both have an interest in. And then the other points instead I mean the priests and also the all the religious leaders especially the Mulla and priest they have a massive role in Kurdistan to fight extremism and to face that extremism wave and speech dislike Iraq, in Iraq the religious discourse is a pretty harsh one and extremism it’s continuously being monitored there you can see that. But in Kurdistan, roughly about 6000 mosques and those Clarks have been huge rolled into to distribute a moderate interpretation of Islam and fight extremism. Although while we are in Kurdistan facing many challenges the; for example, one of the challenges is that there is like some trying to build the wall as Berlin Wall between all the different minorities in Kurdistan, but this is so far hasn’t been accomplished it that’s because the speech in Kurdistan and the religious speech especially by the Clerics is a moderate one what we are trying in Kurdistan to achieve is to make a wall but not between the ethnic groups and minorities, make a wall around all Kurdistan, make it a natural garden that all kinds believe peacefully together.

 Nadine Maenza: , Yeah, thank you. I agree with that, and I do hope that the US government continue to prioritize our relationship with a Kurdistan and the regional government and understand how important it is that the Kurdistan region of Iraq continues to stay a place that is a great ally to the U. S. and that can be this place for religious minorities can live and be safe and practice their faith. So I do hope that the US government can continue to support and stand by the government’s side and help them be able to work in the complex I have that I know they have a lot of enemies around them as well that we would like to see them fail. So it makes it even more vital if I stand with them, for sure

Nwenar Fatih: Miss Maenza, can I ask you a few more questions. Your commission gives recommendations to the president and the secretary of state on the Congress of the United States and here. For example, in the recent reports when you published, when I go through the recommendations you have given, they are the ones that are crucial problems in Iraq. It can solve a lot of long issues like the Shangal agreement, the disputed areas between the Kurdistan Regional government and the Iraqi Federal government, also it’s related to the militias how to work as you recommending the government to impose more sanctions on them. My question is how seriously these recommendations are being taken into consideration by the current administration and what’s the factors that make light draws the US policy in Iraq. Are these recommendations taken into really like seriously, or it’s the other strategic interests of the United States? We know we are here talking about politics, right. There is Iran, Turkey and Saud Arabia, Kurds, Sunna and Shia. How does this political competition make it hard for the current administration to look seriously into these recommendations regarding minorities and freedom of religion?

Nadine Maenza: That is so true. In terms of the political realities, security always trumped everything. And so often, let’s go to look at the country next door. Let’s look at Syria for a minute. Freedom of religion or belief has never been at the table for US policy for Syria, So what that has meant is that they’ve used the excuse of security as a reason to not deal with religious freedom and not insist that it be a part of the supporting the people on the ground that they’ve chosen to support. In so, they end up putting together a Syrian opposition coalition that, on the basis, is mainly Islamists that have re-created conditions that are horrific for using these for Yazidi, Christians and others. So while it’s easy for the US government to say we’d have time to do this right now because security is so important, if they don’t integrate religious freedom principles while they’re walking that watch, they’re going to end up with at the very end with a solution that has no legitimacy with the people one that doesn’t match our values and so that’s the problem that we have when we say security trumps human rights religious freedom we can end up in a place where we have non. And so when I’d say with Iraq, the security is so important. Still, suppose we want Iraq to be stable and right react peacefully. In that case, it’s going to need religious freedom because if we have these ethnic in ethnoreligious tensions and conflicts going on in the rise of ISIS and an extremist, as you’ve talked about how they care to try so hard to eliminate that ideology because as we’ve all agreed at it’s you know returning ISIS in and of itself is in that’s a security thing right, so they’re targeting ISIS but as you mentioned. Dr Mamou, are we targeting the ideology as well? Because the security part would be targeting ISIS, but when you’re looking at the entire religious freedom portfolio long term, we need to be encouraging religious freedom if we want to meet our goals which is the elimination of ISIS which is a security miniority people for Iraq to get to there has been more than just weapons. I mean look at Afghanistan another perfect example we spent what $1000000000000 training the military with the best best, and the best of the trainers the best military the best equipment that money can buy but because it wasn’t a government worth fighting for I mean we talk about that Afghanistan government years ago is being horrible religious freedom. Religious freedom was never a question. It was never a part of the solution for Afghanistan in which many good people are trying to pursue more space for women. It was still better than it is now, obviously, but you can end up in a situation where because religious freedom wasn’t a priority, there isn’t really a going to be a lasting peace.

So, I go back to our recommendations for Iraq and say article 140 is challenging. I mean, it’s hard to settle the disputed territories. Still, we have to determine the disputed territories, or we can never go forward, so at some point, the US has to understand there isn’t any other option if we want peace and security. It would be a lot easier to do this in 2005 when the constitution was passed rather than just taking it down the road to deal with that. I know it’s always easier to do it later, but it’s the part of why ISIS can rise because of the security gap. So it needs to be subtle it’s these are not the most accessible recommendations. They sound like they’re more manageable, but they’re not. We understand that the consequence of not doing that it’s more complicated than doing them. So would the good news is this administration has had an open door with us we’ve had a lot of conversations about Iraq in, Syria, and Iran. We know that these recommendations have been read and are in considerate. So we hope that people in Congress who are indeed the governments themselves, like the KRG and others, will go to our government say, please do these and that there’ll be some pressure to do that.

Dr Mamou Farhan: I have a short comment; I appreciate your approach, Miss Nadine. I know theoretically, you were talking about religious freedom. Still, religious freedom comes from a state that’s based on democracy. If you wait for the transformational process of democratizing or learning, it will take years and years, and maybe more than a hundred years. I think the issue that’s connected to the minorities of Iraq should be a political one. The goal of the government’s year should support the minorities with an international commitment and if here it. I mean all Yazidi, Christian, Kakai and others that do not have a problem with each other, and of course, they have no problem with each with the head principal that’s one to use the service and says some religious text will follow them. So because things are unpredictable and sometimes the logic doesn’t function so the issue of the minority should be a political one.

 Nwenar Fatih: So, I Just added to Mr Mamou, and your answer can be just one answer. We remember in the last administration, trump’s administration, there was more we at least noticed from here it was more focused on the Nainawa plain. Many seminars and conferences tried to find the source of self-governance for that area with all the minorities. I remember pretty well vice president Mr Mike Pence, who was in charge of his personality. Still, with the current administration, the Biden administration, we do not see that anymore. That’s it, just gone; there is no more interest, no more statements about any initiatives about the Nainawa plain. What happened? Can you give us clarification on that? Is the Biden administration interested in it as its previous administration about the Nainawa plain?

Nadine Maenza: so I do know that some of the work ended with the USA idea; we were concerned about that and when we checked with U. S. Aid, what we’ve seen is that they were on like a 3-year program that was ending in a just a coincidental that it ended it wasn’t you know the way that the government the way works are you see the money is planned years before it hits the ground. Hence, they’ll the lack of some action now is things that two years ago three years ago where they ended up planning. So I’ve been told that they’re still committed. I’ve had a meeting with the USAID with this in mind the religious minority, religious freedom, the Iraq and Syria group, and I’ve been promised its commitment is the same. I’m in, so while you may not be seen the vice president talk about it, I’m hoping that we will continue to see support from the US government. I do know that this year there were additional funds committed to Iraq. I think it was another fund dedicated to Iraq. It was an additional $150 million. So I’m hoping that it will continue, and I also hope that the government. At the same time, they do these things and will be public enough about it to reassure the people of Iraq that they’re not leaving it there, not just leaving them. I agree with you, Dr Mamou, in terms of a political solution. The one thing I learned I do is that you serve as some of the countries we deal with are not democracies. Yet, we’re seeing an increase in religious freedom conditions in places like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. So that we can do it. At the same time, the short democratic states tend to have better religious freedom that you’re right waiting for that here to protect itself in democracy are messy and moving into a democracy is the most confused once. And so I agree with you. It can’t be connected that we’re waiting for democracy then perfect itself, and they’ll have religious freedom. I think you’re right; it has to be part of a political solution that must be a priority; there needs to be international pressure to protect religious minorities.

Nwenar Fatih: Thank you; we have one minute left; I will have my last questions you monitory Iraq, and you monitor Iran in Iraq. You may the report you mentioned how the regime is using its interpretation of the religion of Islam. It’s on course to crack down on any protests any peaceful movements, and in Iraq, you said groups, militia groups under cover of the popular mobilization force (PMF). They are aligned with Iran. They are involved in many violations; when we talk about disputed areas, mainly the offences are committed by popular mobilization force; even in Sinjar, we are talking about affiliated groups with PKK. Still, they are supported and funded by the PMF. Do you see any similarities between the regime in Iran? It’s using its interpretations when it comes to the violation of freedom of religion, what’s happening in Iraq and the violations that the PMF commits?

Nadine Maenza: You know, it’s so interesting that you say that countries act differently when they’re outside their borders than they are in. It seems that Iran is really about destabilizing when they’re outside of their own country we certainly save us see that places like Lebanon right where the growth that has blood there and the support of Iran to stabilize the country and it appears in the Iraq that’s the case and now we’re seeing of course the election results not being able to move forward and Iran interfering with that and so there is just continuing destabilize destabilization call of Iran they don’t do in their own country in their own country actually rule with iron hand and harassing and suppress the religious minority communities in Iraq they don’t quite have the same sort of power but clearly through the PMF that as you said. You know they harassing and they control of movement and freedom of movement they take land so they have a ton of power and it’s so much of it is unfortunately you know we went and targeting the religion minority I mean often mention that the Yazidi and Christians because they’re such as you mentioned tiny numbers kakai there so at risk but also there’s a large amount of Sunni Muslims unable to return home that are also being harassed as we said in our report by the PMF. So it’s undoubtedly a problem, and I know the people of Iraq are tired of it and pointed towards that in this election, but Iran still won’t back down. Still, Iran did not let the political process continue, so I do hope the international community stands with Iraq against the will of Iran to cause this consistent destabilization which is harmful to all the people of Iraq but obviously, particularly those most at risk.

Nwenar Fatih: So Nadine Maenza, the chair of USCIRF, thank you very much for your time we were so pleased to have you.

Nadine Maenza: Thank you so much for having me; this is very interesting. I appreciate the opportunity.

April - 2022
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