All posts by Erik K. Gustafson

Why do I care so much about Iraq?

My friends and colleagues have asked me over the years: Why do I care so much about Iraq? Twenty-five years ago, I toured newly liberated Kuwait and witnessed first hand the environmental devastation and human costs of modern warfare. That experience kindled a life-long passion for preventing and mitigating armed conflict, and more importantly, working to … Continue reading Why do I care so much about Iraq?

Meet EPIC’s Newest Team Member

On December 1, Mark Seaman began as EPIC’s first Director of Development and Communications. In his role, Mark will be responsible for growing our relationships with foundations and corporate donors, planning events for those in our network, working with the media to spotlight our work, and bringing to everyone’s attention the needs of millions of … Continue reading Meet EPIC’s Newest Team Member

One Team, One Dream

Since 1998, EPIC has remained focused on one goal: peace in Iraq. One way we’re aspiring to realize that goal is through Soccer Salam, our project with U.S. veteran-led charities to assist and empower vulnerable children and families who have been displaced by the conflict in Iraq. Today we’re launching a Crowdrise fundraiser. We’re asking … Continue reading One Team, One Dream

A Smile for Your Weekend

We have some great news to kick-off your weekend! Over the past month of Ramadan, the Soccer Salam team successfully reached 490 displaced Iraqi families in need. Our distributions included food baskets, water containers, first aid and hygiene kits, a change of clothes, and urgently needed medicine. Of course, it would not be Soccer Salam … Continue reading A Smile for Your Weekend

Top 10 Misconceptions on the Iraq Crisis

The advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and corresponding events, along with ISIS’s effective use of social media, have given rise to narratives across the world of media. Some of those narratives are thoughtless overreactions to the sudden appearance of ISIS on the world stage, a story that has … Continue reading Top 10 Misconceptions on the Iraq Crisis

TentEd: an EPIC Initiative to Help Syrian Refugee Children

The Education for Peace in Iraq Center is ramping up our response to help Syrian refugees in Iraq, alongside our continuing commitment to invest in young Iraqis. Last night, I returned from two weeks of Picturing Change with some really impressive students at American University in Iraq – Sulaimani (AUIS). EPIC’s work with AUIS students … Continue reading TentEd: an EPIC Initiative to Help Syrian Refugee Children

Giving the Gift of Peace

This holiday season, consider making an investment in the power of youth to bring peace to the world. Please support the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) with a year-end tax-deductible contribution toward our work to promote peace and empower young people. Young people like Hawre, one of the participants of our photovoice project … Continue reading Giving the Gift of Peace

IRAQ MATTERS COMMENTARY: Sounding the Alarm

NOTE: The full commentary offered below appears in our most recent IRAQ MATTERS podcast available here. The commentary begins at 2:36. Shortly after the departure of the last U.S. troops from Iraq nearly two years ago, President Obama and Iraq’s Prime Minister — Nouri al-Maliki — held a joint press conference. At that event, Mr. … Continue reading IRAQ MATTERS COMMENTARY: Sounding the Alarm

An EPIC Update on the Obama administration & PHOTOVOICE

Greetings dear friends, I am writing to  you from Arbat refugee camp outside Sulaimani in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, and I have some very important news to share with you. President Barack Obama has just announced that he will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House on November 1, marking the first such … Continue reading An EPIC Update on the Obama administration & PHOTOVOICE

Remembering Displaced Iraqis on World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day, a day when the world takes time to honor the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. Last year alone 7.6 million people around the world were forced to flee conflict or persecution, adding to an estimated total of 45.2 million displaced people worldwide. In the Middle East, the … Continue reading Remembering Displaced Iraqis on World Refugee Day

Urge President Obama to do more to end the violence

As reported by Kelly McEvers (@KellyMcEvers) this morning on NPR, Iraqis are facing the worst violence since the country’s sectarian war of 2006 and 2007. Since April, waves of car bombs and other sectarian attacks targeting civilians have killed thousands. The Syrian civil war and the Iraqi government’s deadly crackdown on Sunni protests are major drivers … Continue reading Urge President Obama to do more to end the violence

For USAID chief, the FY2014 budget is a matter of life and death

This week Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is on Capitol Hill to deliver testimony on the international development priorities of President Barack Obama’s proposed FY2014 budget. The total amount that his agency, USAID, and the US State Department and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) combined spend annually on foreign … Continue reading For USAID chief, the FY2014 budget is a matter of life and death

The Story of Newroz and the fabled town of Akra

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, and that means Newroz (or Nowrūz derived from Persian meaning “new day” or “new sun”), a spring festival of Zoroastrian origin that has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. Walking among the budding Cherry Blossoms and mating songbirds, there are few arrivals that I … Continue reading The Story of Newroz and the fabled town of Akra

Is a lasting peace in Iraq possible?

Yes, but only if communities come together. Today in Iraq, there are not enough opportunities for that. Moreover, in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30, young people must be a top priority of peacebuilding efforts. In 2011, those ideas developed into a vision for an exciting … Continue reading Is a lasting peace in Iraq possible?

Who Inspires You?

From early 2009 through much of 2010, my home was Sulaymaniyah (known as Sulaimani by local residents) in Iraqi Kurdistan.  I had the privilege of working with Iraqi community groups, humanitarian aid workers, and human rights defenders from across the country, including many led or staffed by young people. Their dedication to make a positive difference against the odds inspires me … Continue reading Who Inspires You?

Can Crowdfunding Drive EPIC’s Mission in Iraq?

I find that coincidences are good indicators of something that deserves my attention. Two months ago, an entrepreneur friend, Pierre Habshi, told me the story of how the “crowdfunding” website Kickstarter raised $1 million in capital for a designer who had the idea of converting an iPod nano into a wristwatch. Coincidentally, that same week, … Continue reading Can Crowdfunding Drive EPIC’s Mission in Iraq?

>EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser on ISCI’s Election Losses in Southern Iraq

> Reidar Visser is research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs with a background in history and comparative politics (University of Bergen) and a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies (University of Oxford). He’s the author of Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Lit Verlag, 2006) and co-editor of … Continue reading >EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser on ISCI’s Election Losses in Southern Iraq

>The Year of the Ballot Box Begins

>This Saturday, provincial council elections will be held in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Early balloting has already taken place for Iraqi prisoners, hospital patients, and nearly 600,000 members of Iraq’s security forces. Voting in the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government — Irbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah — will take place later this year. … Continue reading >The Year of the Ballot Box Begins

>In the Last and Final Presidential Debate, Few Mentions of Iraq

>Given the global economic crisis, Americans are understandably focused on pocketbook issues close to home. Thus it was not a surprise that the final Presidential debate focused on economic issues. Nevertheless, in an increasingly interconnected world, it’s important for the United States to remain responsibly engaged in facing global challenges. Yet during the full 90 … Continue reading >In the Last and Final Presidential Debate, Few Mentions of Iraq

>EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser Offers a History Lesson for Senator Obama

>Reidar Visser is research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs with a background in history and comparative politics (University of Bergen) and a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies (University of Oxford). He’s the author of Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Lit Verlag, 2006) and co-editor of An … Continue reading >EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser Offers a History Lesson for Senator Obama

>Is Honesty on Iraq as Elusive as The Great Pumpkin?

>Today’s Washington Post editorial once again challenges Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama to update his Iraq position. While EPIC takes no position on candidates running for political office, we have a lot to say about the policy prescriptions (or lack thereof) of both the Republican and Democratic nominees. Where one party seems to be blind … Continue reading >Is Honesty on Iraq as Elusive as The Great Pumpkin?

>A Crisis Too Big for Iraq Alone: a remarkable speech by Iraq’s Ambassador to the U.S.

>In the following video, Iraq’s first Ambassador to the U.S. in 16 years, His Excellency Samir Sumaida’ie, delivers an impassioned opening keynote address at the 2008 National Iraq Forum. Introducing him is former U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Edward Gnehm, Jr., a professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Ambassador Sumaida’ie addresses the … Continue reading >A Crisis Too Big for Iraq Alone: a remarkable speech by Iraq’s Ambassador to the U.S.

>EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser on Why Obama-Biden May not be Change Iraqis Can Believe In

>Reidar Visser is research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs with a background in history and comparative politics (University of Bergen) and a doctorate in Middle Eastern studies (University of Oxford). He’s the author of Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Lit Verlag, 2006) and co-editor of An … Continue reading >EPIC Guest Blogger: Reidar Visser on Why Obama-Biden May not be Change Iraqis Can Believe In

>Putting Iraq’s Budget Surplus into Context

>More than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, while another 2.8 million people are internally displaced. To make matter worse, Iraqis are facing the worst drought in ten years. Millions live in hunger or fear of starvation. Meanwhile here in the U.S., the lead Iraq story is the Iraqi government’s budget surplus. A new … Continue reading >Putting Iraq’s Budget Surplus into Context

>George Packer and Fareed Zakaria Offer Obama a Way Out on Iraq

>Two years ago you could even hear Republicans grudgingly acknowledge that President Bush had an Iraq problem. His rhetoric was too inflexible to adapt to shifting realities in Iraq, and Americans were losing patience. How quickly political fortunes change. Today it seems it’s the Democrats who are not keeping up with shifting realities in Iraq. … Continue reading >George Packer and Fareed Zakaria Offer Obama a Way Out on Iraq

>ACT NOW: House Vote to Determine Fate of Millions in Need

>As early as noon TOMORROW, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on an emergency spending bill for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, including an amendment that would provide over $1.3 billion in lifesaving humanitarian assistance for Iraqi refugees and vulnerable civilians in Iraq, as well as other global humanitarian concerns. Without your help, this … Continue reading >ACT NOW: House Vote to Determine Fate of Millions in Need

>IRAQ ACTION DAYS: 3 Ways You Can Help

>“I have only praise. It was the best organized event I attended. I went home feeling well briefed, empowered and more effective.” – Sister Ann Marie, OP, participant of Iraq Action Days I am pleased to report back to you the resounding success of IRAQ ACTION DAYS in furthering our fight to help millions of … Continue reading >IRAQ ACTION DAYS: 3 Ways You Can Help

>EPIC’s Year-End Appeal

>Dear Friends, This holiday season please consider making a year-end, tax-deductible contribution to the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. Give the gift of peace and humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq. Armed conflict in Iraq has created one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time. More Iraqis have fled their homes than … Continue reading >EPIC’s Year-End Appeal

>Seeing Through Blackwater’s PR Strategy

>As long as we allow private military contractors in Iraq to commit human rights violations with impunity, we are complicit in the reckless endangerment and deaths of innocent civilians. All contractors must be held accountable under law, and every innocent life – American and Iraqi – must be equally protected. Today’s New York Times editorial … Continue reading >Seeing Through Blackwater’s PR Strategy

>EPIC Guest Blogger: Sarah Holewinski on Blackwater Killings

>Sarah Holewinski is the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a group founded by slain U.S. aid worker Marla Ruzicka that works with civilian victims of wars to make sure they get the recognition and assistance they need. Sarah wrote the following commentary shortly after the Sept. 16th shooting deaths … Continue reading >EPIC Guest Blogger: Sarah Holewinski on Blackwater Killings

NPR’s Morning Edition Reports on the Plight of Iraqi School Kids in Syria

>Among broadcast media, National Public Radio is the leader in its coverage of Iraqi refugees. This morning, NPR foreign correspondent Deborah Amos filed a powerful report on Iraqi school kids in Syria. I highly recommend listening to Deb’s report if you’re looking to better understand the plight of Iraqi refugees. Here’s a short description: Morning … Continue reading NPR’s Morning Edition Reports on the Plight of Iraqi School Kids in Syria

>60 Minutes Fails to Hold Blackwater CEO to Account

>I’ve got to sound off this morning. Last night 60 Minutes had an opportunity to hold Blackwater to account for the wrongful killings of 17 innocent civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square on September 16th. Instead, we got a fluff piece. In her 9-minute interview with Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan lobbed … Continue reading >60 Minutes Fails to Hold Blackwater CEO to Account

>Senate passes The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>As an advocate for peace in Iraq, it’s not every day that I can share a victory with you. But today, thanks to EPIC’s supporters and concerned citizens like you, I am pleased to announce a major victory in support of Iraq’s most vulnerable refugees. On Friday, Sept. 28, the U.S. Senate passed the Refugee … Continue reading >Senate passes The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

Senator Ted Kennedy on Passage of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>The Honorable Edward (Ted) Kennedy is the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1962 – present) and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. He is also a Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services and Joint Economic Committees, and chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. In … Continue reading Senator Ted Kennedy on Passage of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>Update & Talking Points on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

When General David Petraeus testified before the House of Representatives, he was asked by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) whether the U.S. has an obligation to protect Iraqi refugees. In response, Gen. Patraeus expressed strong personal feelings about the issue and confirmed that many courageous Iraqis are standing up and trying to contribute to rebuilding Iraq. … Continue reading >Update & Talking Points on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>EPIC Guest Blogger: Jen Smyers on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>Jen Smyers is Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy of Church World Service, an organization founded in 1948 to serves as the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States. From New Orleans to Iraq, CWS works worldwide to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for … Continue reading >EPIC Guest Blogger: Jen Smyers on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

>From the Director’s Desk: Two Senators to Watch

>Let’s face it, it’s difficult to win a Presidential campaign (or even your party’s nomination) and be a responsible Senator at the same time. Running for President requires saying things that fire up your political base, thereby generating campaign contributions, volunteers and media visibility. Being a Member of Congress, on the other hand, involves nuance, … Continue reading >From the Director’s Desk: Two Senators to Watch

>Father’s Day and That Place Called Vietnam

>Yesterday viet vet said… “Does anyone remember a place called Viet Nam?” While I have never been to a place called Vietnam, I feel close to it. My dad served two tours in Vietnam (1967 and 1970). He retired a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps. Although my brothers and I continued the family tradition … Continue reading >Father’s Day and That Place Called Vietnam

>Iraq Peacebuilders Storm Capitol Hill

>Yesterday was intense. I spent the day on Capitol Hill with longtime EPIC colleague Lisa Schirch and a delegation of peacebuilders from the region, who are implementing active peacebuilding programs inside Iraq. There’s a real hunger in Washington for genuine peacebuilding solutions, especially solutions that come from the ground. At the Capitol Hill briefing we … Continue reading >Iraq Peacebuilders Storm Capitol Hill

>In the Media: When Agents of Death & Mayhem Get All the Press

>Earlier this week I blogged about the tendency in the press to characterize Iraq as a “mission impossible” and “let homegrown terrorists and foreign fighters speak for Iraq using car bombs and death squads.” As I posted the blog, I heard the voice of Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero-One (the abrupt, impolite … Continue reading >In the Media: When Agents of Death & Mayhem Get All the Press

>ABC News Loses Two Journalists; Iraq Loses Two of Her Finest Sons

>Iraq continues to be the most dangerous assignment in the world for journalists, especially for local Iraqi journalists and media support professionals. Last Thursday, ABC News lost two of its broadcast journalists. Unidentified gunmen in two cars ambushed and killed cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf, 26, on their way home … Continue reading >ABC News Loses Two Journalists; Iraq Loses Two of Her Finest Sons

>In the Media: Declaring “Game Over” in Iraq Over and Over Again

>When it comes to Iraq, the media loves broad-stroke narratives. In recent years we’ve watched the pendulum of U.S. media coverage swing from “mission accomplished” to “mission impossible.” Yet the reality has always remained somewhere in between. Iraq’s emergence from devastating tyranny, sanctions, wars and occupation was never going to be “a cake walk,” nor … Continue reading >In the Media: Declaring “Game Over” in Iraq Over and Over Again

>The Story of Diyala and the Promise of a New Awakening

>So why are so many foreign fighters and homegrown suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Diyala? What do we know about Diyala? Diyala province covers an area of 6,828 square miles (about 4% of the total area of Iraq). It extends to the northeast of Baghdad as far as the Iranian border. The province is … Continue reading >The Story of Diyala and the Promise of a New Awakening

>Suicide Bombings shift from Anbar to Diyala

>On May Day, I came across a smugly penned speech by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He had written an apology and a warning for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver to Arab and Muslim nations on behalf of President Bush and the American people. The apology: “I’m sorry that I rushed into … Continue reading >Suicide Bombings shift from Anbar to Diyala

>Bayan Jabr and the Chilling Gangs of Iraq

>So you know those daily news reports you see about mutilated bodies being found and catastrophic bombings? Well it’s not random. The choice of “soft targets” like markets — often selected to maximize civilian casualties — and attacks against a specific community like the Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad are by … Continue reading >Bayan Jabr and the Chilling Gangs of Iraq

>Is Reconciliation possible during Civil War?

>Responding to my May 2 post Where are the Benchmarks for U.S. Progress? Bruce Wallace (aka PT Witte in Second Life) asks… Where is the reconciliation benchmark? How long are the Iraqis going to wait before they get a strong reconciliation program going? It’s not like we don’t know how to do this. Great work … Continue reading >Is Reconciliation possible during Civil War?

>Where are the Benchmarks for U.S. Progress?

>Let’s step into our way-back machine and throw the dial to early November 2006. Speculating on potential common ground between President Bush and the coming Democratic majority, I wrote this: To help stabilize Iraq and repair some of the damage done by the U.S., there will need to be a viable strategy for responsible withdrawal … Continue reading >Where are the Benchmarks for U.S. Progress?

>Invite an Iraqi Refugee Family into Your Home

>Our friend JennyJo, a filmaker and producer at Democracy Now!, has a family she would like to introduce you to. She met the Al-Khamisi family earlier this year. They are Iraqi Sabeans who follow the teachings of John the Baptist. They once lived in the “city of peace”, the proprietors of a Baghdad jewelry shop. … Continue reading >Invite an Iraqi Refugee Family into Your Home

>The 100,000s of War Refugees Outside Speaker Pelosi’s Window

>Defending her trip to Syria and dinner date with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed she was “assessing the ground truth” to inform spending decisions made by Congress. If that is the case, than how could Speaker Pelosi spend a day and night in Damascus, Syria without noticing the 100,000s of Iraqi refugees … Continue reading >The 100,000s of War Refugees Outside Speaker Pelosi’s Window

>Tell Your Senators: Iraqis need Aid, not War

> Regardless of when U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the U.S. must do more to pursue peace through other means and help the Iraqi people. Earlier this year, 1,000s of friends of EPIC and our partner, Refugees International, urged President Bush to do more to help Iraqi refugees and to support international relief efforts. After … Continue reading >Tell Your Senators: Iraqis need Aid, not War

>An early Veterans’ Day gift: Bush announces Rumsfeld’s Resignation

>This morning the New York Times editorialized: “Whatever this election accomplished, it did nothing to end the rancor and distrust that define current American politics. Yet, as the campaign went on (and on) there was one issue on which people from both parties appeared to be finding common ground: Donald Rumsfeld has to go.” In … Continue reading >An early Veterans’ Day gift: Bush announces Rumsfeld’s Resignation

>’Power Shifts’ in War-Ravaged Baghdad

>On October 31, Gen. George W. Casey Jr. acquiesced to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s demand that the U.S. military lift its blockade of Baghdad’s Sadr City, home to more than 2.5 million Iraqis – mostly poor Shiite Muslims – and some of some of Baghdad’s most notorious death squads. One of the reasons for the … Continue reading >’Power Shifts’ in War-Ravaged Baghdad