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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

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.

Summer 2015 Interns

Tarai Zemba

Tarai Zemba

Tarai Zemba is a rising junior at Scripps College in Claremont, CA, majoring in Politics and International Relations with a minor in Spanish. Tarai’s interest in international development was sparked on her post high school gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders, where she studied development through fieldwork, readings and academic seminars. Following her freshman year at Scripps, Tarai interned as a student canvasser for The Fund for Public Interest in Boston, MA, educating the public and raising funds for various U.S. environmental campaigns. This fall, Tarai will be a fellow at the weeklong poverty conference, Opportunity Collaboration, in Ixtapa, Mexico, to network with leaders from around the world who are dedicated to creating sustainable poverty solutions. Tarai is extremely excited to begin working as EPIC’s summer research and advocacy intern, and looks forward to gaining more experience with nonprofits as well as learning more about Iraq and the MENA region. Throughout her career, Tarai hopes to continue working for the nonprofit sector in the arena of international development.

Sarah Walker


Sarah Walker is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University with a degree in International Cultures and Politics. Proficient in French and Spanish, Sarah studied abroad in the south of France the spring of her junior year. The previous summer Sarah interned for a nonprofit organization in Ecuador where she worked on a microfinance project and taught English classes. No stranger to D.C., Sarah has interned in the U.S. Senate and has also worked as a Field Team Member on a Senate campaign. Sarah was a member of the Vanderbilt International Relations Association for four years and served as the Director of Philanthropy, the Director of Finance, and the Vice President. She was also part of Vanderbilt’s competitive Model United Nations team, which is ranked among the Top 25 in the country. Through Project: BRIDGES, a Vanderbilt organization dedicated to improving the health of refugees in the Nashville area, she volunteered with Bhutanese refugees to help them adjust to their new city. During her senior year, Sarah’s particular interested in Iraq developed while conducting research on the evolution of high-value targeting during the Iraq War. Sarah is incredibly enthusiastic to work as a Research and Advocacy Intern for EPIC, especially during such an important time in Middle East politics. She hopes to begin her career by conducting research on international affairs for a nonprofit organization or a think tank.

Nicole Ladouceur


Nicole Ladouceur is a rising senior at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, majoring in Politics and International affairs with a double minor in Arabic and Middle East South Asia Studies. Raised in a military family, Nicole’s curiosity of the ways nations engage one another diplomatically and militarily was only natural. Nicole focused her interest in the MESA region following her first year of Arabic studies in 2012, and continued on to study Arabic and conflict resolution in Jordan in summer 2014. Previously, Nicole has worked and volunteered for a variety of institutions, to include K2 Solutions, Inc. and AMIDEAST, and attended the 2015 National Character and Leadership Symposium at the US Air Force Academy. Nicole is eager to begin her work as a Summer Research and Advocacy intern at EPIC, and hopeful to gain greater knowledge of Iraq and the MENA region through a non-profit lens. After her early graduation this coming December, Nicole hopes to pursue a career in international diplomacy.

John Chisholm


John Chisholm is a rising senior at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in International Studies-Political Science with a minor in Economics. John’s passion for international issues began with a community service trip to Istanbul, Turkey, during this sophomore year at UCSD, to work in schools for children with disabilities. Following this experience, he decided to study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. For 6 months he was able to get first hand experiences on many of the issues much of the developing world faces in the classroom, through volunteer work and by traveling. John interned for a leading San Diego humanitarian relief organization, Project Concern International, for the remainder of his junior year. This coming fall, he will be writing his Honors thesis on the politics of international development in Africa, and he hopes to pursue a career in international development or diplomacy John has constantly seeks new perspectives and experiences that broaden his mind and teach him about the world we live in. His passion for international development stems from his desire to make a difference towards the issues he has seen. He is hopeful that his time as a Summer Research and Advocacy intern at EPIC will allow him to learn more about the MENA region and to gain hands on experience with an NGO implementing projects that touch the lives of people around the world. He is most excited to contribute to EPIC’s people-centered focus on the lives of its beneficiaries, especially during such a crucial time for humanitarian relief work in Iraq.