Iraq Matters Podcast







Conversations, news and issues about the pursuit of peace in Iraq. Each episode features a special guest who has Iraq in their story. Get updates from Iraq, US policy, and humanitarian challenges. Segments on arts and culture, spotlights on the people and organizations making a difference, and responding to your messages.

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Hala Podcast Interview
Hala Saffar of the Iraq Health Access Organization speaks with EPIC Director Erik Gustafson.
Jen Smyers Podcast
Jen Smyers of Church World Service explains the vetting process for Iraqi refugees resettling in the United States.

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Past Podcasts

ISHM: NOVEMBER 4 – 11, 2021

Key Takeaways: Tensions Rise As Alleged Election Fraud Protests Turn Deadly; Iraqi And Foreign Leaders Condemn Attempt On Kadhimi’s Life; Fatah Leaders Threaten Withdrawal From Politics – On November 5, Fatah coalition supporters protesting the election results clashed with security forces as they attempted to storm the Green Zone. The violence reportedly injured 125 people and killed three, including a senior commander in Asaib Ahl al-Haq. The coordination committee for Shia powers demanded an investigation and held the government responsible. On November 7, the Ministerial Council for National Security called the overnight assassination attempt that targeted PM Kadhimi “a dangerous

#38: Social Media and Iraq’s Protest Movement

The nonviolent struggle for democratic reforms in Iraq is now well into its fifth month of sustained protests against the government. We talk with Hayder Hamzoz, founder of INSM (Iraqi Network for Social Media), a network of Iraqi bloggers and citizens journalists. Hayder shares his perspective on how the protests work and the critical role that social media activists are playing on both the physical and digital front lines of Iraq’s protest movement.

#37: The Iran-Iraq War and Its Enduring Impact on the Region

This week marks the 39th anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan Province, starting the Iran-Iraq War. On this episode of IRAQ MATTERS, we talk with Joel Wing of “Musings on Iraq” and EPIC’s very own Omar Al-Nidawi about that war and its lasting consequences on the Middle East today.

#36: Basra’s Water Crisis

Protests have become a seasonal phenomenon in Basra province, southern Iraq. To date, Baghdad’s change of regime has made little difference for Basra’s 4.5 million mostly Shia Muslim residents who are frustrated with government corruption and shortages of electricity, clean water, and employment opportunities.

#35: Mosul’s Recovery: A Dream Deferred

On this edition of IRAQ MATTERS, Rasha Al-Aqeedi, a native of Mosul and an acclaimed Iraq analyst, discusses Mosul’s 3 years under ISIS, ongoing challenges to the city’s security and recovery, the role of young people and civil society in the fight against intolerance, and Ninewa’s central importance for enabling peace in Iraq.

#34: Corruption and Reconstruction – Lessons Learned

On this edition of Iraq Matters, Stuart Bowen examines the lessons learned during his ten years as Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction and how those lessons should be applied to the next phase in Iraq’s post-ISIS recovery.

#32: Yazidi Women and Conflict in Northern Iraq

On this edition of Iraq Matters, noted British writer and journalist Cathy Otten explains the situation facing Yazidi families – particularly women and girls – as ISIS is driven out of their homeland in northern Iraq.

#30: Remembering Mutanabbi Street 10 Years Later

On this edition of Iraq Matters, Moussa al-Naseri, a Baghdad native and witness to the 2007 Mutanabbi Street bombing, and Sarah Browning, renowned poet and peace advocate, commemorate Baghdad’s rich history of poetry and literature and examine how those art forms can be used in reconciliation.

#29: How are Refugees Resettled in the US?

On this edition of Iraq Matters, Jen Smyers of Church World Service discusses the history of the US refugee resettlement program, explains the process by which refugees are vetted, and outlines why that vetting process might be of concern.

#28: Displacements Beyond Mosul

On this edition of Iraq Matters, we are pleased to welcome Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International who recently returned from Iraq. While there, she visited displacement camps in both central and northern Iraq, and met with displaced families, aid agencies, and UN officials to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.

#27: What happens to Mosul after ISIS?

On this edition of Iraq Matters, we ask Christine van den Toorn from the American University of Iraq how northern Iraq, which has long been shaped by ethnic factions vying for power, will be governed as it rebuilds and repopulates. What pre-ISIS conflicts among these groups linger, and how will that shape the future?

#26: Civil Society and Youth Respond to Iraq’s Needs

On this edition of Iraq Matters, we speak with Hala al-Sarraf, one woman who is going to extraordinary measures to help meet the needs of vulnerable families in Iraq. Listen as she discusses how Iraqi civil society groups are operating in Iraq’s difficult environment, why local NGOs ought to be empowered and trusted to lead aid efforts, and the critical role that youth volunteers play in shaping Iraq’s humanitarian progress.

#25: Poetry and the Evolution of Free Speech in Iraq

EPIC Program Manager Taif Jany talks with celebrated Iraqi poet, activist, and human rights lawyer Amal al-Jubouri about the challenges to free speech that she faced prior to the 2003 US-led invasion, the importance of sharing Iraq’s story with the world, and the role of young women in shaping Iraq’s future.

#24: A Conversation with Iraq’s Ambassador Lukman Faily

EPIC Director Erik Gustafson spoke with Iraq Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Lukman Faily on the needs of displaced persons in Iraq, government reforms to counter corruption, the role of Americans and the next U.S. President, and the future of Iraqi society.

#23: A Trip Report on Iraq’s Displacement Crisis with Refugees International

Since the escalation of armed conflict in Iraq that began with ISIS seizing territory in Anbar in January 2014, 3.2 million people have fled their homes. As Refugees International reports: “They are living in rented accommodations, unfinished buildings, and makeshift camps, often without adequate food, water, or medical care.” We talk with Refugees International’s Senior Advocate Daryl Grisgraber about her recent mission to Baghdad and her visits to the southern city of Hilla and a hard-to-reach area in Anbar. Get a firsthand account of the crisis, including untold stories of some of the families most affected and of youth volunteers who are responding to their needs. We then share highlights of our recent briefing with Ahmed Ali, including his views on the fight against ISIS, the challenges facing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and the recent unrest in Iraqi Kurdistan.

#22: Giving Voice to the Street Kids and Orphans of Iraq

For years, we’ve been singing the praises of the Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF). Today we’re thrilled to finally share their inspiring story with you. Just days after their most recent mission to Baghdad, we sit down with ICF co-founder Jonathan Webb. After four years of experiencing the war in Iraq up-close and personal, Jonathan returned with a very different vision for Iraq. In 2008, he co-founded ICF to mobilize a life-changing “Surge of Love” for millions of children traumatized by violence in Iraq. Jonathan shares the story of ICF’s success in helping orphans and other vulnerable children living on the streets of war-torn Iraq, and what he’s learned from partnering with some of Iraq’s most extraordinary civil society leaders. Also included, an Iraq update from our EPIC’s research team.

#21: One Year After the Fall of Sinjar

One year ago this week, ISIS captured the city of Sinjar, the historic home of Iraq’s Yazidi community. ISIS massacred hundreds of residents in cold blood and kidnapped thousands of women and children. To learn what has happened to the people of Sinjar since then, we talk with Christine van den Toorn, director of the Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Also featured: an Iraq update with our Iraq Security and Humanitarian Monitor research team.

#20: Under Threat: an Exclusive Report from Iraqi Kurdistan

With the war against ISIS, a worsening fiscal crisis, and the challenge of hosting 1.5 million Iraqis and Syrians displaced by ISIS militants, Cathy Otten of IRIN reports that Iraqi Kurdistan is nearing ‘the breaking point.’ To learn more, EPIC Senior Fellow Ahmed Ali joins us from Erbil in an exclusive interview with the KRG’s Minister of Planning Ali Sindi. We then turn to Joel Wing of “Musings on Iraq” for an update on the latest security and humanitarian developments in Iraq.

#19: OUT IN THE COLD: the Deepening Crisis in Iraq

According to the latest UN estimate, 5.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in Iraq. To discuss that challenge, EPIC convened a distinguished panel with Francois Stamm of ICRC, Michel Gabaudan of Refugees International, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, and Nancy Youssef of The Daily Beast. Hosted by the Iraqi Cultural Center on January 16, 2015, the panelists offered insights on the deepening crisis, the opaqueness of the current military campaign, and warnings for the future of international aid in Iraq, as the fight against ISIS and inadequate shelter leaves many Iraqi families out in the cold.

#18: United in Diversity: The Story of Iraq’s Christian Communities

You may have seen it on your social media feed. These days it seems to be appearing everywhere. The Arabic ن (“noon”) symbol has been used by the Islamic State to mark Christian homes and businesses. Now Christians and their supporters, as well as advocates for religious freedom around the world are turning the tables and using it as a symbol of solidarity. Tune in to this episode to hear from Nuri Kino, Juliana Taimoorazy, and Jeff Gardner and learn more about how a global movement is coming together to defend Iraq’s minorities and preserve its rich heritage and cultural diversity.

#17: Winter is Coming

Across Iraq and the region, millions of Iraqis and Syrians fleeing ISIS face another threat: winter. How are governments responding to this fast approaching humanitarian emergency? Can aid agencies move fast enough to provide shelter for so many before the freezing temperatures and heavy rains begin? Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International stops by our office for an in-depth conversation about the growing crisis and what you can do to help. “Winter is coming” is more than just a warning from the House of Stark. It’s a harsh reality that millions of displaced and vulnerable Iraqis and Syrians will soon face.

#16: What You Need to Know About What Happened in Sinjar

You’ve heard the stories. 10,000s of Yazidis stranded on Mt. Sinjar. The U.S. responding with air drops of aid. Then, the Pentagon declaring the siege over. But what happened in Sinjar? Why were civilians left unprotected without warning as ISIS militants advanced on their city? Is the crisis on the mountaintop over? Tune in for a special Iraq Matters report with Iraq-based researchers Christine van den Toorn and Nawaf, a Yazidi college student whose family fled Sinjar. Also included: an Iraq Update with Musings on Iraq blogger, Joel Wing, and the latest humanitarian developments.

#15: The Changing Landscape of Iraq in Crisis

How is Iraq’s deepening crisis changing the landscape of northern Iraq? What happened to the Iraqi Security Forces in Mosul? Will Kurdistan declare independence? To answer these questions we talk with Christine van den Toorn, an American researcher based in Iraq who has witnessed the unfolding crisis. Also featured: updates on PhotoVoice and TentEd and the latest news from Washington, D.C. and Sinjar Mountain.

#14: Can Civil Society Save Iraq?

Since the fall of Baghdad, the international community has invested millions in empowering an active civil society in Iraq. What is the state of that society today? How are community organizations and activists adapting to the fall of Mosul, the mobilization of militias, and other recent developments? What are they doing to advance government accountability, help vulnerable populations, empower youth and protect women’s rights? Tune in as we talk with Sarhang Hamasaeed of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

#13: Preventing a “Lost Generation” of Syrian children

Imagine growing up in a refugee camp far from the only home (and school) you’ve ever known. We feature a conversation with Zack Bazzi, a veteran returning to Iraq’s conflict zone to carry out a rapid response initiative to help Syrian refugee children, and the Musings on Iraq blogger, Joel Wing, for a special, post-election Iraq update. You can also listen to the extended version of Zack Bazzi’s interview here.

#12: Our BIG Season Finale: Celebrating Why Iraq Matters

They’re smart. And they want to create a better world. They are the young participants of Iraq’s first PhotoVoice project. We talk with EPIC’s director about the concept and practice of PhotoVoice, and what we can all learn by looking at the world through their eyes. Then we celebrate the end of our first season by taking you on a journey to the heart of why Iraq matters, with excerpts from our most memorable interviews.

#11: Bridging Cultures through Higher Education: The Iraqi Student Project

How did two people start a movement that would change the lives of many young Iraqis? This week’s episode features interviews with the founders and participants of the Iraqi Student Project, a grassroots non-profit that succeeded in securing higher education for 60 Iraqi students. Also, EPIC’s founder and director, Erik Gustafson, offers insight into the President’s State of the Union address and Musings on Iraq blogger, Joel Wing, gives an Iraq Update.

#10: Is Peace in Iraq Possible? The Story of “Little Iraq”

Can Iraq’s diverse communities ever live together peacefully? To answer this question, we talk with Christine van den Toorn who tells us the story of “Little Iraq”, a town called Bashiqa. Also included is excerpts from Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq’s recent remarks on the need for the US to be more engaged in promoting national reconciliation and an Iraq Update with Musings on Iraq blogger, Joel Wing.

#9: Making a List and Checking it Twice

To mark the two year anniversary of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, we talk with Kirk Johnson, author of To Be A Friend is Fatal and founder of The List Project, an organization dedicated to helping the Iraqis America left behind. Also included: a new Iraq Update with Ahmed Ali, a spotlight of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, and Part 2 of our interview with the groundbreaking Iraqi-American journalist Yasmeen Alamiri, who discusses the contributions that resettled Iraqi refugees are making to communities in America today.

#8: A Conversation with Yasmeen Alamiri

By the age of 23, Yasmeen Alamiri was a White House correspondent. As a young Iraqi American woman who has covered two administrations, what have the past five years been like? How does she view the Obama administration on Iraq? What are her hopes for the future? Tune in as Iraq Matters reports the latest news on Iraq including a special humanitarian update on Syrian refugees, your letters, and a conversation with “a voice driving the media conversation,” the groundbreaking Al-Arabiya journalist and producer Yasmeen Alamiri.

#7: Veterans’ Perspectives on Iraq

Today, Iraq Matters sits down with three Iraq veterans to discuss their unique perspectives gained while deployed in Iraq. All three have made the commitment to continue their mission in Iraq. In addition, Erik Gustafson, EPIC’s director and also a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, delivers the first Iraq Matters commentary on EPIC’s recommendations for the Obama administration’s relationship moving forward with Iraq.

#6: Maliki’s Meeting with Obama

Today, Iraq Matters sits down with Ahmed Ali, Iraq analyst from the Institute for the Study of War, to discuss today’s meeting between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Obama. This is the first time in nearly two years these two men last sat down together. Ahmed Ali talks about what PM Maliki hopes to achieve and the opportunity that it presents for the Obama administration to reset US-Iraq relations in support of genuine peace efforts and improvements in governance.

#5: Baghdad’s Message to Washington

At the top of our show, we highlight Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zubari’s visit to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and his discussion about Iraq’s progress and current challenges. Our second highlight is Iraq’s new Ambassador Lukman Faily and his recent appearance at the Brookings Institute. Finally, we have a culture corner with Professor Bilal Wahab about Iraqi cuisine and what’s trending with Iraqi youth.

#4: Higher Education in Iraq

This week, our focus is on higher education in Iraq and the story of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), a student-centered American-style university established in 2007. Our executive director, Erik Gustafson discusses his recent trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including an update on our current field work project, PhotoVoice Iraq, and his visit to three Syrian refugee camps. This is followed by an interview with our special guest, Kyle Long, from AUIS, who focuses on higher education in Iraq and the story of AUIS. Finally, an excerpt from Professor Bilal Wahab about his experience at this prestigious university.

#3: Is Iraq’s Oil a Blessing or a Curse?

Our third podcast includes our conversation with Professor Bilal Wahab of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) about the double-edged sword of Iraq’s oil wealth- is it a blessing or a curse? Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq gives us the latest with his Iraq Update, and we include an exchange between Phebe Marr and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ahmed Ali of the Institute for the Study of War also speaks on popular trends among the youth of Iraq at our Culture Center.

#2: Party Politics in Iraq

Part two of our conversation with Ahmed Ali of the Institute for the Study of War focuses on party politics within Iraq. Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq gives us the latest with his Iraq Update, and we spotlight Kim Schultz for her advocacy work with Iraqi refugees.

#1: Our Podcast Debut

Ahmed Ali of the Institute for the Study of War talks with us about Iraqi politics and what’s up with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. We also receive an Iraq Update from Joel Wing of Musings on Iraq, a description of Ramadan from American Islamic Congress co-founder and executive director Zainab al-Suwaij, and a “Put Iraq Back on the Agenda” campaign update.