By Huffington Post
May 23, 2018
Akbar Shahid Ahmed
A mostly non-Christian militia linked to a brutal Iranian-backed
paramilitary group secured two of the five seats in Iraq's parliament
reserved for Christians, according to official election results
The militia, known as the Babylon Brigade,
doesn't represent Christians at all, local leaders and international
advocates for Iraqi Christians warn. They say the militia's candidates,
though Christian, won only because of help from Shiite Muslims. And
Iraqi Christians are calling on President Donald Trump to live up to his
statements of concern for Middle East Christians by pressuring Iraqi
authorities to invalidate the results. But so far, the Trump
administration has said nothing on the issue.
Rayan al-Kildani, a
Christian associated with various militias, founded the Babylon Brigade
in 2014 when ISIS swept through Iraq and began hunting down religious
minorities. Al-Kildani brought together 1,000 fighters and soon became
the most prominent Christian in the popular mobilization, an umbrella
group of Iraqi militias that fought ISIS with U.S. help. Along the way,
he forged close ties with the Badr Organization, a historically brutal
armed group that receives support from the Shiite leadership of Iran.
of Al-Kildani's fighters aren't Christians, national security experts
say, but members of the non-Christian Shabak ethnic minority or Iraq's
Shiite Muslim majority. Al-Kildani's chief value to the mostly Shiite
leaders of the popular mobilization forces was in propaganda. "He's used
like a quisling character to put a Christian face onto these militias,"
said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, a
think tank focused on Middle East policy.
Al-Kildani has "nothing
to do with the morality of Christ ... [and] does not represent
Christians in any way," the church of Louis Sako, a top Iraqi priest
who's now a cardinal-designate, said in a statement last year.
didn't win the parliamentary seats because of support from the
Christian community but because of his ties to groups like Badr, his
opponents fear. His candidates received thousands of votes from heavily
Shiite cities that have no known Christian communities, said Asaad
Kalasho, the U.S. representative for the Christian town of Tel Keppe.
did get votes from Christians ... [but] there's no way that he won
based solely on those Christian votes," said Yousif Kalian, a program
assistant at the United States Institute for Peace who has written on
Al-Kildani's militia. "Many [Christians] feel he doesn't represent their
interests largely because of connections to Badr and to Iran."
Christian party whose representatives had a post-election meeting at
the State Department is formally challenging the seat allocation. And
Sako said the results show Christians need to "learn a lesson" about
securing political power.
Activists believe that rather than
advocate for the Christian minority, the Babylon Brigade's
representatives in parliament will be most concerned with tipping the
scales in favor of the Badr Organization, which secured the
second-largest seat total in parliament. Kalasho said he sees the
situation as evidence that the entire election was flawed -- echoing
complaints of irregularities elsewhere that the U.S. has said should be
Strong representation, the advocates argue, is
crucial to help Iraq's already struggling Christian community survive.
Before the U.S. invasion unleashed waves of violence, Iraq had nearly
1.5 million Christians among its population of 38 million. Now only
about 200,000 are left in the country, most of them in northern
villages, the Kurdish region in the northeast and the capital, Baghdad.
been marginalized by both Kurds and the central Iraqi government over
the years. Now it's Iran," said Steve Oshana, the executive director of
the nonprofit group A Demand for Action, throwing in a reference to
Trump's favorite geopolitical bogeyman. "Our land has been stolen, our
rights diminished, and if we lose legitimate representation in
parliament, there's no coming back for us ... We've been bamboozled, and
it will take leadership from the administration to make sure it doesn't
lead to our complete marginalization in our ancestral homeland."
said a strong response by the U.S. government is the only way to ensure
that Christians still have their interests represented and prove that
Washington will not tolerate attempts to suppress them. The White House
and State Department met with Iraqi Christians worried about al-Kildani
at least twice last year, Oshana said.
Many in the Trump
administration, particularly evangelical Christian darling Vice
President Mike Pence, have said they want to help Iraq's Christians.
the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a
Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you, help is on the way,"
Pence proclaimed in October.
But the president has repeatedly told
aides he wants to wash his hands of the Middle East and avoid pulling
the U.S. into its communities' disputes.