US vital in stabilizing Northern Iraq says Archbishop of Erbil

One of the top religious leaders in the ISIS-scarred region of northern Iraq says assistance from the U.S. in stabilizing the area is vital to ensuring the safe return of Christians and Yazids.

“It’s important for the Americans to step in,” Archbishop of Erbil Bashar Matti Warda said in a recent interview with Fox News at its New York offices. “With the dollars, with the political influence, all the experience they have had over the last 100 years supporting the genocide cases, they can be of great help.”

“This is really genocide that happened. It cannot just be headlines in the news. Actions must be taken here and that’s why we are saying, ‘this is the time.’”

Warda, a key figure in the beleaguered Iraqi Christian community, has been vocal in the past about the lack of assistance from the U.S. government. In the hopes of building a helpful dialogue the current administration, Warda recently toured North America in an attempt to lobby for assistance from the international community to help with rebuilding efforts in the Nineveh Plain where many of the villages were left decimated in the aftermath of a nearly two-year occupation by ISIS.

In November, he visited the UN and participated in a panel that focused on solutions for improving conditions for the religious minority communities of the region.

He later met with Vice President Mike Pence, who publically pledged in recent months that the US will provide the support in rebuilding efforts.

“I often speak about the families staying but to be honest. Today, I can’t say it anymore, because it’s not going to end. From challenge to challenge. From difficulty to difficulty."

- Bashar Matti Warda, Archbishop of Erbil

“To be honest, we have been encouraged by Vice President Pence’s announcement that the American help would go directly to the most people in need,” Warda said. “This is the first time that the American administration has made a clear standpoint on this issue, which is really good.”

The Bishop believes that the White House’s support could not come at a better time for the fragile region which is hoping to see its native people return.

“And it’s time for action. Because we do believe that time is not helping us because the more you delay the action, more Christians will leave the area,” The Archbishop said. “The sooner you act and get involved and be part of the rebuilding, reconstruction and supporting the Christians and Yazidis case.”

The Nineveh Plain, also known as the Plain of Mosul, has been the ancestral homeland of Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities -- all of whom were under attack from ISIS once the terror group started to control the region in 2014.

The Christian population in Iraq has plummeted to 275,000 from 1.5 million in 2003, according to current estimates. It is feared the population could be permanently gone within five years, if no action is taken, according to a November 2015 report from Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity.

It has been estimated that a dozen Christian families fled Iraq each day during the ISIS occupation of the northern half of the country. Christians who have managed to escape ISIS have fled to Europe and Lebanon. Others simply wandered the region avoiding U.N.-operated refugee camps for fear that Muslim refugees in the camps would target them. Previous relief efforts provided to the region has helped at least 13-14,000 families to remain in the region, but another 6,000 have yet to return.

“[These] vital indigenous communities of Iraq should be preserved…not just privileged in a sense, but at least paid attention that they need so they can, not just survive, but at the same time, play an important role in the reconciliation and rebuilding of Iraq," Warda said.

The bishop adds that he understands why some have been hesitant to return to the region.

“Personally, I would love to see Christians stay in Iraq,” He said. “This is the historic land where we are from. I would love to see our community participating in the rebuilding of Iraq and be a part of efforts. This is one of their rights.”

“I often speak about the families staying but to be honest. Today, I can’t say it anymore, because it’s not going to end. From challenge to challenge. From difficulty to difficulty."

As the region has begun the long process to rebuild many of these Christian areas in the Nineveh now lie in the disputed areas between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) based in Erbil, and the central government further south in Baghdad. Clashes between Iraqi and Peshmerga forces broke out on October 16 in the aftermath of a referendum where the Kurdish people voted overwhelmingly in favor of seeking full independence from the central government in Baghdad.

The already frail population of religious minorities in Northern Iraq has been caught in the crossfire.

Many of these families say that that they can’t continue to be a part of this collateral damage.

It’s been estimated that nearly $250 million dollars are needed to stabilize the region, with $125 million to rebuild the villages and cities left decimated by ISIS and the other half going toward creating institutional structures like schools and hospitals and rebuilding infrastructure.

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych