Three spoke to the Register this week during the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The priests, who represented a few of the many victims of persecution by the Islamic State (ISIS), came to Washington to discuss international aid efforts and how to rebuild the shattered lives of the minorities in the region.
Chaldean Father Thabet Habib, a pastor to the Iraqi Christian towns of Karamles and Teleskov, told the Register that the Christians are “returning after the liberation from ISIS … so the people now feel at peace, but they have some worry about the future, about the situation in Iraq and in Nineveh. Our existence and our peace is conditioned by the situation of Iraq.”
“They have another worry about some plans to create demographic change by other groups, by [the] Iraqi government sometimes,” he added. “Our land is the first thing we have to protect.” Father Thabet explained that there are Iraqi militia in the Nineveh Plain, “accused by the common opinion that they have a good relationship with Iran.”
“When we returned after the liberation, a leader of this militia, he wanted to take the lands in Karamles and rebuild a house,” he said. “That leader declared, ‘I am a leader in the militia, the PMF [Popular Mobilization Forces]. I killed many ISIS members.’”
After refusing the militia leader’s request to rebuild a house for himself in the town, Father Thabet received death threats on social media. However, he said in that case the Iraqi government intervened and did not permit the militia leader to rebuild the house.
“We hope to live in Iraq, modern Iraq, not [with] militia but official forces to protect the people,” he said. “We want to resolve this problem because maybe the PMF was founded in that time when the ISIS arrived to Baghdad … but the healthy situation [is] to have official forces; Iraqi forces belong to Iraq, not to these groups.”
Father Thabet said that in all the region’s towns, roughly 40% of the Christian families have returned, except in the town of Batnaya, where “destruction is the highest and [there are] some problems from the militia.”

Praise for U.S. Help
He praised some of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s efforts in the region, saying they have been helpful with equipment to clear rubble and restoring electricity as well as helping with hospitals in the towns. However, he said there was room for improvement.
“We hope this aid will be more efficient, more direct with the groups, because using these funds and budget through many NGOs and institutions — that means you have less money from this budget,” he said. “So it should be more direct and more flexible, so in this way we can reach good goals.”
Father Thabet praised the Trump administration’s increased focus on the issue, particularly the efforts of Vice President Mike Pence.
“I hope to meet him because it’s unusual to listen, to hear about this language to help the Christians; before, we didn’t hear this,” he said. “Now, with the new government, with Mike Pence, we are usually hearing about the help for the minorities — especially in Iraq — so it’s a new thing.”
“We hope this will be a normal procedure, to help the minorities in Iraq and in the Middle East,” he added.
The priest outlined several things Iraqi Christians need to feel safe to remain in their homeland.
“For the Iraqi Christian the logistics are very important, to give him rights and to protect his identity in the towns,” he said. “Reconstruction of these towns and create the dignity of work; develop the zones, so in this way we can protect the Christians in Iraq and they will stay in Iraq and continue their mission started 2,000 years ago.”