USCIRF Hearing on Religious Minorities' Fight to Remain in Iraq

Sep 26


Sep 26th 2:30pm - Sep 26th 4:00pm

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Hearing

Religious Minorities’ Fight to Remain in Iraq

Thursday, September 26, 2019
2:30 – 4:00 PM
385 Russell Senate Office Building

Hearing Transcript

Hearing Summary

Please join the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for a hearing about the religious freedom situation in Iraq and the conditions that would enable religious minorities to return to and flourish in their communities.

Iraq has traditionally been home to one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse populations in the Middle East. While a majority Shi’a Muslim and minority Sunni Muslim population together account for 95-98% of the country, Iraq also once boasted a large Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of around 1.5 million and around half a million Yazidis, in addition to an array of smaller ethno-religious communities such as Shabaks, Kaka’is, Sabean-Mandaeans, and others. However, systematic persecution and the ongoing violent conflict have caused those traditional demographics to undergo seismic shifts, displacing record numbers of people who are seeking to return to their historic homelands.

More than five years after ISIS’ genocidal rampage across northwest Iraq, circumstances for traumatized minorities remain dire. Tens of thousands of Yazidis linger in IDP camps, their villages in Sinjar still in ruin, while Iraqi Christians—of whom only an estimated 200,000 remain in the country—trickle back to towns in the Nineveh Plain while questioning whether Iraq still holds a place for them. The United States and other international partners have pledged tens of millions of dollars to help rehabilitate areas that ISIS left in ruin, and those funds have begun to make a difference—but there still remains substantial, long-term work to help those vulnerable populations return, rebuild, and remain.

Witnesses will highlight U.S. policies and programs in Iraq that support religious minorities, ongoing religious freedom-related challenges in the country such as anti-blasphemy laws and discrimination, and the factors on the ground affecting religious communities’ ability to return to their homes.

Opening Remarks

Panel I

  • Hallam Ferguson, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Middle East Bureau, United States Agency for International Development
    Written Testimony

Panel II

  • Pari Ibrahim, Executive Director, Free Yezidi Foundation
    Written Testimony
  • Reine Hanna, Director, Assyrian Policy Institute
    Written Testimony
  • Aaron Ashoff, Deputy Director for International Projects, Samaritan’s Purse
    Written Testimony
  • Scott Portman, Director, Middle East and North Africa, Heartland Alliance International  


Submitted for the Record

This hearing is open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the public, and the media. Members of the media can RSVP at The hearing will be livestreamed via the Commission website. For any questions please contact Jamie Staley at or 202-786-0606.


732 NORTH CAPITOL STREET, NW SUITE A714 | WASHINGTON, DC 20401 | (202) 523-3240

Tony Perkins, Chair · Gayle Manchin, Vice Chair · Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair 
Kristina Arriaga · Gary Bauer · Anurima Bhargava
Tenzin Dorjee · Andy Khawaja · Johnnie Moore
Erin D. Singshinsuk, Executive Director

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad.