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.
Spring 2015 Interns
Jonathan is a recent graduate of Goucher College in Baltimore, where he majored in International Relations with a concentration in Middle Eastern Affairs. During his undergraduate studies, he had several opportunities to participate in international education programs, in Jordan, through the University of Yarmouk and the Qasid Arabic Institute. His interest in humanitarian aid and international development arose from his relationships with the numerous refugee populations in Jordan. Since returning from his last trip in 2013, he has worked with the Department of Defense’s TIDES Research Project that supports populations under stress through the implementation of sustainable technology. He is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with EPIC and support the youth of Iraq, over the springtime, through communications and research assistance.
Alec Lynde is a junior at Boston University, majoring in International Relations and Middle East & North Africa Studies. He is particularly interested in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and in 2013 he studied Arabic and Jordanian politics in Amman, Jordan. Alec is the President and Co-Founder of the Arabic Society of Boston University, an undergraduate student organization that promotes the the study of Arab politics, economics, society, culture, and language on campus and throughout the Greater Boston area. After graduation, Alec plans to pursue a career in Washington, DC in Middle East foreign policy analysis or development and peace-building. He is excited about the opportunity to conduct research on the current situation in Iraq and engage in non-profit advocacy with EPIC this semester.