News ID: 115520
Publish Date : 27 May 2023 - 23:12

U.S. Proselytizing Program in Iraq

SINJAR, Iraq (Middle East Eye) -- Sara is one of the many survivors of Daesh’s mass enslavement of Yazidis in northern Iraq and, since being rescued in 2017, still lives in a roadside tent as part of an informal IDP camp.
With limited support from the authorities, Western NGOs have become a lifeline for Sara and other displaced people.
However, there are now increasing concerns that a number of these NGOs have another purpose beyond merely providing aid - proselytizing the Christian faith.
“The Christians teach us English in the camp and take us to a Duhok church for two hours between classes,” said Sara.
“We usually go in groups of between eight and 12. There’s no obligation to go to church but I go because I want to learn English and move abroad, and they are very good to us. They give us food and money.”
A video released on social media last month showing western Christians praying against what they described as a “satanic curse” outside a Yazidi temple in northern Iraq - which sparked outrage - was just the latest manifestation of years of surreptitious evangelical efforts targeting Iraq’s most beleaguered minority.
Sara said during church services, which she attends several times a week, the mostly American Christians spoke in English, with Kurdish translation.
“They talk about God, peace, and humanity. They ask us what we want - I say I want to learn English and go abroad, but everyone says something different and they say things and make us repeat them,” she said.
“Some of my friends wear crosses in church but I don’t. Some wear the crosses all the time, but they haven’t converted.”
The pressure being applied on IDPs by foreign missionaries has outraged many Yazidis, particularly in the wake of the mass forced conversions imposed on them by Daesh.
Haider Sheshu, commander of the Ezidkhan Protection Forces - a Yazidi branch of the Kurdish Peshmerga - said the Christian missionaries were exploiting the vulnerability of those in the camps.
“These missionaries take advantage of people’s poverty... it’s shameful because to change your religion is not an easy thing, and it is unacceptable to use aid as a way to pressurize people to convert,” he said.
“These NGO missionaries are basically the same as Daesh - and of course we will fight them, as we fought Daesh.”
Shariya camp, near Duhok, is currently the IDP camp most heavily targeted by Christian missionary organizations, which focus on teaching children aged 4-17 about Christianity through music and art, including during full-time summer school programs.
“I saw many children, in school and in the street, singing Christian songs, telling each other things like ‘Jesus will save you’, ‘Jesus is God’ and even drawing pictures of Biblical scenes,” said one Yazidi teacher, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They pay special attention to orphans and the handicapped but they target all the camp’s youth because children are so impressionable.”
A number of groups, primarily American Protestant organizations, have been at the forefront of the missionary work.
The incident at the Yazidi temple was organized by Light A Candle, an American group founded by Sean Feucht, a singer-songwriter and activist who claims to have had four number-one albums in the Christian worship section of iTunes and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as having a “far-right Christian nationalist agenda” and being a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump.
MEE also saw among Sara’s English language books a plastic bag containing multiple copies of pamphlets given to her by a Christian NGO, which she declined to name, for distribution.
Written in Kurdish or Arabic, these were illustrated with diagrams depicting ways to reach God or cheery biblical scenes. One, published by Christian Aid Ministries, featured two Iraqi phone numbers, both of which went unanswered.
“It is aggressive Protestant proselytizing among Yazidis and even among Iraq’s apostolic Catholic Christian communities,” a Westerner working with Iraq’s indigenous Christians told MEE, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He claimed some evangelical organizations had close ties to the U.S. government and access to vast funds, which had helped them forge good relationships with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, which oversees most Yazidi IDP camps.
“They say they’re coming to help poor Iraqi Christians but, in reality, it’s clear their long-term plan is to convert, even among native Christian populations. It is reprehensible to take advantage of a wounded people.”
‘Poverty and Desperation’
Although most conversion efforts focus on IDP camps, proselytizing NGOs have also reached the Sinjar area - which falls under the control of the central Baghdad government - with reported conversions in small obscure outlying villages showing the extent of their reach.
“Conversions are not about religion,

but because of poverty and desperation,” said Khal Ali, commander of Sinjar’s Lalish Battalion (part of Iraq’s irregular Hashd al-Shaabi forces), who confirmed that a number of NGOs in Sinjar had been identified as missionaries.
“People are desperate so, if they are offered $1,000, they will accept being called Christian.”
Because bureaucratic procedures make it more complex for NGOs to work under the Baghdad government, some missionary NGOs circumvent this by basing themselves in Iraqi Kurdistan and partnering with local NGOs to reach Sinjar.
American NGO The Restoration Act, which recently signed an agreement with a local NGO to develop a year-long education project in Sinjar, was cited by several Yazidis as actively promoting the Christian faith, both in Sinjar and in camps.
“They work in a very smart way, teaching English, nursing, midwifery, and sewing,” explained one local activist. “They also hand out grants of between $800 and $2,000 to individuals and, during such activities, they talk about God and lead people towards a path of conversion.”
One secular NGO working in Sinjar told MEE that, several years ago, another organization threatened to compromise their work by sending them boxes of toys, asking for these to be given to needy local children. But then, Bibles were found hidden underneath the toys and distribution stopped.
While at least one missionary NGO was reportedly prevented from working in Sinjar by Baghdad, with indigenous Christians widespread across Iraq - and Sinjar lying in a remote, rural region near the Syrian border - comprehensively policing the work of all NGOs is challenging, especially where conversion drives are carried out secretly.
Yazidi religious leaders see the conversion attempts in near-apocalyptic terms, stoking further fears about the long-term future of their faith.
Harman Mirza Bak, a senior figure in the Yazidi ‘royal’ class, said the conversions were “like another genocide”.
Although NGOs remain primary employers and aid providers in Sinjar, Bak was adamant the Yazidi community did not want aid from Christian organisations if they continued to push a religious agenda.