Friday, July 16, 2010

Bringing Christ the warmonger to Kurdistan, courtesy of US taxpayer

AS though people in Iraq did not have enough trouble getting over the effects of war, and coping with sectarian and ethnic strife, a bunch of aggressive Evangelicals from Tennessee have landed in Kurdistan, with a view to establishing the superiority of their version of Christianity, and waging "Spiritual Warfare" against Islam.

Wealthy as some American Christian outfits are, with their own TV stations and publishing houses, these new crusaders from Servant Group International and related bodies are not depending on the dimes and dollars of their flocks back home, nor on individual wealthy donors. Notwithstanding America's famous separation of Church and State, they are being subsidised by the generous taxpayer, Uncle Sam.

Describing the Classical School of the Medes, built on a hillside outside Sulaymaniyah, reporter Michael Reynolds says it is one of three new private schools in the region that teach a "Christian worldview," established by the evangelicals from Tennessee.

"Since the US occupation took hold, American evangelicals have established not only schools, but printing presses, radio stations, women's centers, bookstores, medical and dental clinics, and churches in northern Iraq, all with the blessings and assistance of the Kurdistan government. Many of these efforts were funded in part by US taxpayer dollars, channeled through Department of Defense construction contracts and State Department grants".

How American Right-Wing Christians Are Waging 'Spiritual Warfare' in Northern Iraq
By Michael Reynolds, AlterNet

Reynolds says that in September 2003, just four months after the US led invasion and occupation of Iraq, 350 evangelical pastors and church leaders assembled in Kirkuk, where they were welcomed by Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. At that gathering, George Grant, a leader of Servant Group International, the evangelical organization in Nashville that set up the new Christian schools, declared: "Jesus Christ is Lord over all things; He is Lord over every Mullah, every Ayatollah, every Imam, and every Mahdi pretender; He is Lord over the whole of the earth, even Iraq!"

Documents from CENTCOM, the US Central Command for the Middle East, show that between 2005 and 2007,the US Defence Department's contracting organisation paid a Kurdish company at least $465,639 for the construction of Grant's School of the Medes. Two years earlier, tens of thousands of dollars from a State Department-funded program called Healthcare Partnerships in Northern Iraq went into various Servant Group evangelical and humanitarian projects.

In return for the Kurdish Regional Government's support, Doug Layton, a Servant Group founder, served as its liaison in Washington during the Bush years. He ran Kurdish public relations efforts and recruited evangelical businessmen to invest in the region.

For helping the Barzani Kurds gain favour with the Bush administration and its right-wing Christian base, the Evangelicals were rewarded, by being permitted and even assisted to set up their schools and churches in Barzani's Kurdish fiefdom. This is in striking contrast with the intolerance shown political dissenters in the region, and with the attacks on traditional Christian communities in 'liberated' Iraq. Some American observers, like Mike Amitey, a Middle East senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, are worried the invasion of the evangelicals could cause trouble. "Given the rise of the Islamic parties in Kurdistan and Assyrian Christian resentment of American evangelical exceptionalism and proselytizing, they're playing with fire."

The US military, then still adhering to a policy that favoured Saddam Hussein against Iran, were reluctant to admit the Iraqi leader's responsibility for the chemical weapon attack on Halabja in 1988. But the war on the Kurds led to thousands fleeing as refugees, and many reached Nashville, Tennessee. In 1992, a cadre of Nashville evangelicals from Servant Group International, including large numbers of Kurdish believers, made their way back to Kurdistan, carrying Kurdish-language bibles, money, medical equipment and a plan to establish their "Father's Kingdom" between the Turkish border and Iran. Since arriving in northern Iraq some twenty years ago, Servant Group has widened its global presence, establishing offices, ministries and schools in Turkey, Central Asia, Indonesia, Germany, and Norway.

According to Reynolds, since the US-led invasion, "they have burrowed deep inside the Kurdistan Regional Government, the ruling coalition of Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). With help from Layton at the Kurdistan Development Corporation and aided by connections with Republican lobbyists and Congressmen in Washington, they have brokered international business concessions and oil drilling contracts and funneled USAID and DOD money into their missions, setting up their chain of Christian schools. In turn, the KRG has backed Servant Group's ministries and schools with grants of land, buildings and other favors.

Servant Group and its partners are distinguished by their military model of evangelism (what they call "spiritual warfare"); their covert action tactics such as "tent making" or "Kingdom Business" (they enter a country to establish seemingly secular businesses as a cover for evangelism); their intelligence gathering, which they call "spiritual mapping" (where teams of evangelicals conduct full-spectrum "field research'" that includes demographic, historical and geographic data from the neighborhood level to entire countries); an ingrained animosity to Islam; and their dominionist "Kingdom Now" worldview (a fusion of neo-Calvinist authoritarianism and "New Apostolic" Pentecostalism, a millenarian sect of the Assemblies of God whose best known adherent is Sarah Palin)".

Douglas Layton coauthored a book, Our Father's Kingdom: The Church and the Nation, in 2000, in which he explicitly lays out his mission: "If communists and Muslims can take nations -- so can our God!"

That book's co-author, George Otis, Jr., heads a global evangelical intelligence agency, The Sentinel Group, that deploys "field cells" with laptops to gather demographic data in countries the movement has targeted for conversion -- currently, Uganda, as well as several countries in Central America and the Middle East, including Iraq. The data is forwarded to Sentinel's computer banks as part of its "spiritual mapping" project.

In June 2002, as the Bush administration began prepping for the US invasion of Iraq, Congress green-lighted $3.1 million for a State Department-funded program called Healthcare Partnerships in Northern Iraq, ostensibly an effort to improve healthcare in the Kurdish region, but primarily viewed by Middle East policy experts in the United States and local NGO observers as a way to bring the KDP and PUK together under a unified governing body. Douglas Layton was hired as field operations director for this project.

Two-thirds of the Partnership money was swallowed up by Meridian International, a "Non-Governmental Organisation" whose board, at the time, included the wife of then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and its subcontractors, according to an analysis by one of the program's participants. That left about $1 million for Layton to direct into Kurdish health programs. According to published reports by Servant Group and sources in northern Iraq who were involved with the program, Layton funneled much of it into Servant Group operations such as its mobile dental service, health clinics, and into the pockets of Kurdish officials with whom he was currying favor. Layton also rented an office in the Kurdish Regional Government's Ministry of Health for $1,000 a month-another kickback to KRG officialdom-where he wrote speeches for Health Minister Dr. Jamal Abdul Hamid Abbas. According to two NGO sources who were then in Kurdistan, Layton also handed out cash and equipment from Healthcare Partners to Abbas' cronies.

Under Layton's guidance, the Partnership set up Internet connections at local clinics and medical schools, then required the organizations to pay $1,000 a month to continue the service -- money they did not have.

A field director for an international NGO involved in health programs in Kurdistan from 2002 to 2004 was not much impressed with Layton or with the Partnership. "HCP was full of shit," said the field director, who, due to his ongoing work in the politically volatile region, asked not to be named. "Our NGO conducted a series of nursing trainings in all three major hospitals, and we heard of no activity in this area by the HCP.

"You look at the HCP final report and one thing that jumps out is the fuzzy math. They say they gave twenty-six grants averaging about $13,000. That comes out to about $338,000, not nearly the $1 million they say went into the grants programs. As far as reports on grant activities go, this is one of the shoddiest pieces of garbage I have ever seen."

George Grant is the author of The Blood of the Moon, a book first published in 1991 and reprinted in 2001. In his book, Grant calls for conquering the Islamic world by military might in order to bring about Muslim conversion, an obvious prerequisite for achieving his uncompromising theocratic worldview. In his 1987 Dominionist polemic, The Changing of the Guard, Grant wrote:
"Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land -- of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ. It is to reinstitute the authority of God's Word as supreme over all judgments, over all legislation, over all declarations, constitutions, and confederations."

In an April 2004 lecture at fellow Dominionist R.C. Sproul's Highlands Study Center in Virginia, Grant said, "We're to make disciples who will obey everything that He commanded, not just in the hazy zone of piety, but in the totality of life.... It is the spiritual, emotional, and cultural mandate to win all things in the name of Jesus."

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps a watch on racist and far-Right movements, says Grant and his schools "are deeply influenced by white supremacist ideas." He points, in particular, to Grant's close association with Douglas Wilson, who founded both the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (of which Grant is a longstanding member) and New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, which provides teachers to the Classical Schools in Kurdistan.

Wilson also co-authored a book, Southern Slavery: As It Was, a neo-Confederate fantasy disguised as history. The book argues that Southern slavery was sanctioned by the Bible and that slaves enjoyed a wonderful life due to the patriarchal benevolence of their evangelical masters. "Slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the [Civil] War or since," it reads. "There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world." According to Potok, Grant and Wilson are in the leadership of a movement within Christian Reconstructionism called "Celtic Sunrise" that is deeply influenced by white supremacist ideas.

Amitay says the Kurdish leaders are not concerned about the evangelicals' long-term agenda. "Everyone knows it's a game. The Kurds just want to cash in. The KRG isn't concerned about what evangelicals say over here. English reports in the US aren't going to be read over there." He beleives the KRG "will draw the line" if the evangelicals pursue aggressive conversion efforts. "A priority for the KRG is a decent relationship with Tehran," he says. "And there is a rising pro-Islamic movement responding to the economic disparities between wealthy Kurds and the majority of working poor. There is resentment out there that the Islamists can tap into."

American experts admit Iraq is fragmented along religious and ethnic lines, and there is contention over cities like Kirkuk and the oil-rich region around. They fear that the evangelicals helped by their own government and the Kurdish authorities could make things a good deal worse. It seems the Kurdish leaders have in a small way acted like the Israeli government, which has welcomed evangelicals like Pastor Jack Hagee bringing gifts of money, knowing that he said Hitler was sent by God, and that he preaches war in the Middle East, and Armageddon. Playing with fire is an all too common temptation.

Rebaz Mahmoud contributed reporting from Kurdistan. Michael Reynolds is a former correspondent for the Reuters Miami/Caribbean bureau and a senior analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project.
View their story online at:

Thanks to Tahrir Swift for drawing my attention to this story,

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