Erik Gustafson: Executive Director
Erik K. Gustafson is Executive Director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), an organization he founded in 1998. Gustafson is a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. Witnessing the consequences of war has fueled a life-long passion for peacebuilding, human rights work and humanitarian advocacy. Following his military service, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a degree in education. While there, he led the Madison chapter of the East Timor Action Network, supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination. In 1997 and 1999, he traveled to Iraq to investigate the deterioration of humanitarian conditions under Saddam Hussein’s regime and the most comprehensive economic sanctions ever imposed in the history of the United Nations.
In 1998, Gustafson moved to Washington DC and established EPIC to improve humanitarian conditions and promote human rights in Iraq. Under his leadership, EPIC has hosted dozens of policy forums and led humanitarian advocacy on Iraq in Washington DC. In 2008, Erik organized Iraq Action Days, which helped generate $1.8 billion in funding for war-affected Iraqis and other vulnerable persons worldwide.
From early 2009 to late 2010, Gustafson took a sabbatical from EPIC to spend time in Iraq. Based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he worked with DePaul University’s International Human Rights Law Institute (IHRLI), directing a countrywide professional development program for Iraqi human rights defenders. Participants included organizations from 9 of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Anbar, Kirkuk, and Erbil.
Since his return from Iraq, Gustafson has focused on implementing EPIC’s new strategic plan of research, advocacy, and field work to serve young people and educators in Iraq and the region. In the summer of 2011, he led EPIC’s first youth project in Iraq, the Iraqi Youth Hike, in partnership with Nature Iraq. Offering a diverse group of young Iraqis from Kirkuk a chance to get away from the dust and violence and enjoy the great outdoors, the program included a guided hike along a dry wintering stream in the Piramagroon Mountains, a nature survey using camera traps, and presentations by Iraq’s leading mammal biologist, ornithologist, and botanist.
In 2013, Gustafson visited Syrian refugee camps and Iraqi IDP camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to assess the response to the region’s growing humanitarian crisis, and to help raise awareness about the needs of the region’s displaced and vulnerable populations. The past year also marked the start of two new programs at EPIC: PHOTOVOICE IRAQ and the IRAQ MATTERS podcast. Today Gustafson is expanding EPIC’s work to connect and facilitate partnerships between Iraq and U.S. agencies and institutions.
Taif Jany: Program Associate
Taif was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq where he stayed until he finished high school in 2006. In early 2007, Taif was forced to flee Iraq and sought refuge in Damascus, Syria where he lived for almost two years. In Damascus, Taif joined the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), a program that helps war-displaced Iraqi students earn their undergraduate education in the United States. Taif was accepted to Union College in Upstate New York and arrived to the U.S. in the summer of 2008.
In 2012, Taif graduated from Union with a B.A. in Sociology and French and moved to Washington D.C. immediately after. Prior to EPIC, Taif has worked as a legislative intern in the office of Congressman Keith Ellison-MN 05. He also interned at the Arab American Institute (AAI), Congressional Quarterly (CQ ROLL CALL), and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)-UN office in New York.
Living through the 2003 war on Iraq, and witnessing its tragic consequential outcomes, has nourished Taif’s aspirations to fight for peacebuilding, social and economic justice, and human rights advocacy. Taif is dedicated to focus his time and energy on EPIC’s mission to help rebuilding a more peaceful, democratic, and prosperous Iraq.
Ahmed Ali: Visiting Senior Fellow
Ahmed Ali has been researching Iraqi affairs since 2006 and is an expert in Iraq’s military and political affairs. He has written extensively on the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Iraq’s military forces, Iraqi Shi’a armed groups, Iraqi tribes, and Iraqi politics. Mr. Ali regularly advises government, military, diplomatic, and non-profit organizations on the situation in Iraq.
From 2013-2015, Ahmed Ali was a Senior Iraq Research Analyst and Iraq Team Lead at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). At ISW, he frequently wrote on the military and political developments in Iraq including on ISIS strategy, the performance of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and Iraq’s 2014 national elections. He was previously an analyst at Georgetown University where he researched and wrote on Middle Eastern affairs. From 2008-2011, Ahmed Ali was a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he authored over 20 reports including coauthoring the Institute’s study on Kirkuk “Kirkuk in Transition: Confidence Building in Northern Iraq” and the Institute’s study on Iran’s influence in Iraq.
Ahmed Ali has appeared on CNN, NPR, BBC, Channel 4 News, C-Span, al-Hurra television, Voice of America, al-Jazeera, Sky News Arabia, Radio Free Iraq, and al-Arabiya. He has also been quoted in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Politico Magazine, Time Magazine, McClatchy, the Daily Beast, and the Washington Times among others.
Ahmed Ali is native in Arabic, fluent in Kurdish, and proficient in Farsi. He is the editor of the website Iraq Shamel.
Fall 2015 Interns
Alexsandra Canedo is beginning her second year of graduate school at the School of International Service at American University, where she is also a research assistant for Dr. Garrett-Graddy Lovelace. Alexsandra’s focus lies in gender and human security. Therefore, due to her strong passion for human rights and the improvement of security for all individuals, she is in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at AU. Before coming to the east coast, Alexsandra graduated with a degree in Women and Gender Studies as well as Political Science from California State University of Fullerton. Prior to her internship at EPIC, Alexsandra spent her summer in Southeast Asia where she interned at a nongovernmental agency called Sisters in Islam. At Sisters in Islam, Alexsandra was part of the Communications, Research and Publications department. Due to the limited amount of personnel and fast paced nature of the office, Alexsandra was able to strengthen her advocacy skills and ultimately become a valuable contributor to the organization’s newsletters and press releases. After her summer abroad, Alexsandra has developed a greater interest in advocacy and grassroots activism as she was personally able to witness the success that civil societies can have in fragmented states like Malaysia. Therefore, apart from deepening her understanding of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, Alexsandra is eager to learn more about the nonprofit world and the grassroots response that is taking place in Iraq and around the world.
Tanesha Singletary is a second-year Masters candidate in International Affairs at American University’s School of International Service. Within the school, she is a part of the Comparative and Regional Studies program with a regional focus on the Middle East. Tanesha is a Georgia native and received her Bachelor’s degree from Emory University with a double major in Anthropology and International Studies with a regional focus on the Middle East and Africa. As a part-time Americorps member in the Bonners Leaders program, intern at SOS Children’s Village Cape Town, Family Support Intern at Habitat for Humanity Tucker, and a participant in Emory’s European Politics Program, Tanesha has been able to garner experience in a number of fields and narrow-in on what truly aspires her. Tanesha is eager to begin her work at EPIC as its Research and Advocacy intern because it allows her to merge her two passions: the state, the power relations among regional actors in the MENA in conjunction with other powers of influence, and society, the impact of specific policy initiatives and institutional structures on the populace. In the future, Tanesha hopes to begin a career in foreign service.
Brian Nichols is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science, with a concentration in International Politics, and a minor in Psychology. He first became invested in the Middle East and its people during his time as an undergraduate, where an academic interest, born from a single class, quickly became a personal one that would define the remainder of his time there. He has had extensive experience in both the political arena, having interned on both a Senate campaign and in the House during past summers, and in the field of education, having worked for several innovative consulting companies and for a tutoring organization.He hopes to begin his career by working on analysis and research for a think tank or a nonprofit focusing on the international arena. He is extremely excited and proud to work at EPIC as a Research and Advocacy Intern, particularly during such a critical time for Iraq and the region as a whole.