Thousands of Iraqi Christians who had successfully returned home and were trying to rebuild their community after the area was freed from Islamic State control were forced to flee again Tuesday after Kurdish forces swarmed the town and engaged in a standoff with the Iraqi army, endangering civilian residents.
Roughly 2,000 Assyrian-Chaldean Christian families have been forced to flee the Iraqi village of Teleskof, located in the Nineveh Plains, in the last 24 hours, knowledgeable sources in touch with the community told the Washington Free Beacon.
Teleskof is the first city where a significant number of Christians had returned to their town, and was considered one of the few foreign-aid success stories in terms of helping Christians and other religious minorities rebuild their communities in Iraq after mass slaughter and persecution by ISIS.
Hungary has provided millions of dollars to help families return to Teleskof, which ISIS overran in 2014. Catholic organizations and human rights activists have cited the Hungarian commitment as a model for U.S.-government foreign aid and assistance.
Peshmerga forces from Kurdistan stormed the town Tuesday and began firing mortars at Iraqi forces, catching civilian Christian families in the crossfire, the sources said.
There were also reports of members of the Iraqi army carrying photos of Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei into the battle in Teleskof amid news that members of Iranian militias have joined Iraqi forces in recent clashes with the Kurds.
Iranian-backed militias also were spotted among troops Baghdad recently sent to Kirkuk, and the head of Iran's Quds Force, was reportedly involved in efforts to hold talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials.
The local Christians have requested help from U.S. forces in the region to stop the violent confrontation in Teleskof, according to a source in touch with people on the ground in the town.
The town of Teleskof is where a Navy SEAL died fighting ISIS earlier this year. The SEAL was identified as Charlie Keating IV, the grandson of the Arizona financier Charles Keating Jr., who was imprisoned for his role in the savings-and-loan scandal in the 1980s. He was just the third U.S. service member to die in combat in the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS since 2014.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green on Oct. 12, arguing that providing immediate assistance to persecuted Christians communities and other religious minorities in Northern Iraq could help head off a "potential conflict between the [Peshmerga] and Baghdad while barring an Iranian land bridge to the Mediterranean."
The lawmakers said this Iranian land bridge "threatens to fill the vacuum in the Nineveh Plain created by the removal of ISIS."
"This land bridge will be occupied by forces loyal to Tehran if security and rebuilding fails to come from other quarters," the lawmakers argued.
Republican Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Robert Aderholt of Alabama, and Chris Smith of New Jersey, along with Democrat Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, sent the letter. It pressed USAID to bypass the United Nations and channel funds intended to help Christians and Yazidis in Iraq directly to Catholic charities and others helping them on the ground.
A U.S. official responded by stating that it would continue its "religion-blind" policy when it comes to dispensing aid, distributing the funds based on need and not giving priority to any particular groups, even those facing U.S. government-designated ethnic cleansing or genocide.
The official also asserted that the "United States has provided assistance that reaches Christian and other minority communities in Iraq, and pointed to nearly $1.7 billion dating back to fiscal year 2014 that the U.S. government has provided to address all the humanitarian needs of Iraqis "both inside Iraq and in the region, including vulnerable members of minority communities, like the Yazidis and Christians."
The four lawmakers have argued that most of the money the United States has provided is directed through the U.N., which has little to show for its assistance to these communities. The lawmakers and other human rights activists familiar with U.S.-funded U.N. projects in Christian areas of Iraq say there is widespread U.N. corruption and mismanagement of those projects.