Iraq’s al-Ahwar Marshes become UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yesterday in Istanbul, Turkey, during the afternoon of the last day of the 40th session, The World Heritage Committee added eight new sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the added sites is the Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of Biodiversity and the Relict Landscape of the Mesopotamian Cities in Iraq.

A Marsh Village in 1974.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention describes the site as such: “The Ahwar is made up of seven sites: three archaeological sites and four wetland marsh areas in southern Iraq. The archaeological cities of Uruk and Ur and the Tell Eridu archaeological site form part of the remains of the Sumerian cities and settlements that developed in southern Mesopotamia between the 4th and the 3rd millennium BCE in the marshy delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Ahwar of Southern Iraq – also known as the Iraqi Marshlands – are unique, as one of the world’s largest inland delta systems, in an extremely hot and arid environment.”

The marshes are located where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet. Despite being home to the Madan, or Marsh Arabs, as well as host to many different types of flora and fauna, the marshes have been continuously depleted for various economic and political reasons. The population dropped from an estimated 500,000 in the 1950s to a mere 20,000 and the total area was greatly reduced. However, following the 2003 American invasion, many of the dams were destroyed and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) did much to help restore the marshes.

Reflecting on the new UNESCO inscription today, Peter Wien, President of TAARII, said, “The inclusion of the Iraqi Marshes on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites is a milestone, not least in terms of an acknowledgement of the importance of cultural heritage preservation for the country on its way towards a sustainable future. Iraq is extremely rich in heritage sites of world renown, of which only a handful have been recognized so far. TAARII hopes that social and political developments in Iraq and the broader region will allow that this is only the beginning in a long line of new admission that highlight Iraq’s central position on a world heritage map.”

Katharyn Hanson, TAARII’s Executive Director, added, “This is really fantastic news!”

The Mesopotamian Site of Ur.

TAARII Awards Best Dissertation on Ancient Iraq

TAARII is pleased to announce the recipient of its bi-annual awards for the best U.S. doctoral dissertations on Iraq.

The Donny George Youkhana Dissertation Prize for the best dissertation on ancient Iraq was awarded to Dr. Kiersten Ashley Neumann of the University of California, Berkeley, for her dissertation entitled: “Resurrected and Reevaluated: The Neo-Assyrian Temple as a Ritualized and Ritualizing Built Environment.”

Neumann’s lengthy dissertation is a deep investigation into the ritual aspects of the Neo-Assyrian temple, and follows a new wave of highly theoretical approaches to the built environment and materiality in the politico-religious aspects of the Mesopotamian record. Her work is interdisciplinary, expertly combining art historical, anthropological, philological, and archaeological approaches, thereby engaging with all available source material to provide a thorough presentation of the construction and use of Assyrian temples. Neumann successfully brings these buildings to life as places that, with their shiny, glazed, painted, and metallic surfaces, strange carved creatures, and exotic smells were indeed wondrous ritualized spaces for their intended audience to experience.

TAARII will hold its next dissertation award competition in 2017 for dissertations defended during the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 academic years. Submissions are invited from any discipline for the study of any time period. The competitions are open to U.S. citizens at any university worldwide and any student at a U.S. university. The amount of each award is $1,500.

States of Imagination: Four Perspectives on Iraqi Political Culture, 1900-2014

MESA 2015 Panel Report

States of Imagination: Four Perspectives on Iraqi Political Culture, 1900–2014

Report by Annie Greene and Carl Shook, co-organizers

When the 2003 invasion of Iraq failed to establish the stable and Western-friendly state its American architects hoped for, and instead directly precipitated civil war and helped increase the salience of sectarian identification in politics and society, the social fabric and geography of the Iraqi state itself was held responsible. The narrative of Iraq as a contrived state, which arbitrarily and irresponsibly combined the “Kurdish north,” the “Shiʿi south,” and the “Sunni west,” all with an imbalance of political power and natural resources, was dusted off in order to explain the political failures and challenges after 2003. This narrative grew more common, and its proponents more vocal, upon the development of Islamic State and its conquest of Iraqi and Syrian territory in 2014.

In the last two decades or so, a growing number of scholars who specialize in Iraqi history and politics have steadily worked against this narrative through studies that focused on the contingent contexts and processes that may result in political, civil, or religious conflict. The state was rarely the sole or even dominant subject of these studies. Among other advantages, this problematized representations of Iraqi society as either a passive or reactionary partner in Iraqi political history. Our goal in forming this panel was to contribute to this trend of decentralizing politics by looking at the Iraqi state from the perspective of the diverse institutions and actors involved and in contact with, but not necessarily part of, the state. We contend that a de-centered political vantage point is more analytically useful because it treats the Iraqi state as a product of political imagination, negotiation, definition, and contestation.

Therefore, we set out to design a panel that considered the Iraqi state through the country’s political history from four very different perspectives. The first perspective was that of Ottoman-Iraqi intellectuals carving out a discursive space for themselves between Ottoman centralization and local expression in verse, the press, and the parliament. Annie Greene (University of Chicago) examined some of the writings of three Ottoman-era Iraqi intellectuals, the poet Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi, journalist Sulayman Faydi, and parliamentarian İsmail Hakkı Babanzade. She demonstrated that their critiques and praises of Ottoman state policies, all the while sitting in Baghdad and Basra, reveal an importance and relevance to the imperial capital Istanbul as provincial intellectuals, not merely peripheral ones. They saw themselves as active agents of the reform and renaissance currents going on in the empire, even in the frontier.

Carl Shook (University of Chicago) presents at the “States of Imagination” panel.

The second perspective was that of British Mandate officials towards Iraq as a distinct socio-political entity. Carl Shook (University of Chicago) presented the geographical and historical rationale for dividing territory into irrigated and non-irrigated land, and categorizing the population into “settled” and “un-settled” (read: Bedouin) groups. He then described the normalizing effects of this simplistic social dichotomy on the formation of the Iraq-Syria border between 1918 and 1932. Parts of the new political boundary were delimited to shield agricultural land and trade routes from both “foreign” and “Iraqi” tribal groups, but accommodation of and resistance to the new boundaries by tribal elites, shepherds, traders, and smugglers nevertheless influenced the location and permeability of the resulting border.

The intellectual and avant-garde clientele of Baghdad’s coffee shops provided a third perspective, this time challenging the state’s rationalization and nationalization during the monarchical period of the 1940s. Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago) discussed leisure as a domain that is not free from political intervention and disciplinary power, but that is rather one of the sites in which different and competing ideals and visions of nation and temporality manifest and in which social norms are both practiced and contested.

Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago), right, presents at the “States of Imagination” panel. From left to right: Omar Sirri (University of Toronto), Carl Shook (University of Chicago), Annie Greene (University of Chicago), and panel moderator Peter Wien (University of Maryland and current TAARII president)

The fourth perspective was that of the contested legal foundations of Iraq following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Omar Sirri (University of Toronto) described the absence of constituent power of the people during the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution in 2004 and 2005. Through interviews with constitution makers in Baghdad, his paper indicated that Iraqi political elites came to occupy the seat of constituent power, and showed the implications of this by arguing that these elites remained engaged in a Schmittian political dynamic, which marginalizes the Iraqi people, and that has come to define constitutional politics in Iraq.

This panel intentionally accentuated periods across Iraq’s political history that reject easy narratives and trajectories of continuity of the Iraqi state. Instead of defining the state, we sought to amplify some of the voices and discourses that contributed, one way or another, to its existence. By favoring Iraq’s political history and culture over a state-centric approach, we hope to have illuminated diverse but meaningful moments in Iraqi political history which, taken together, challenge a hard state-society distinction in favor of a “blurred lines” perspective. In other words, the state was taken as just one of many sites where political interaction, through which identity, religion, language, politics, and history are being molded and made concrete, takes place. These four perspectives represent just a few of the ways Iraq was imagined, shaped, critiqued, and invested with meaning and purpose during Iraq’s long twentieth century.

“States of Imagination” panel, from left to right: Omar Sirri (University of Toronto), Pelle Valentin Olsen (University of Chicago), Carl Shook (University of Chicago), and Annie Greene (University of Chicago)

On behalf of all the presenters, we would like to express our gratitude to our panel chair and discussant, Peter Wien, for his time and thoughtful, constructive comments. We would also like to thank TAARII for sponsoring our panel, and all who attended for contributing to an engaging and productive discussion.

US Research Fellowships for 2015: Elizabeth Rauh

Elizabeth Rauh, History of Art, University of Michigan, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for her project Weapons of Creation: Art Practice and Production in the Contemporary Middle East.

Elizabeth Rauh

Elizabeth Rauh

Elizabeth Rauh’s dissertation project examines how artists in the contemporary Middle East harness material violence into productive and creative art practices, which often interrogate historical art methods and materials. Rather than historicize modern art in the Arab World and Iran as derivative or “hybrid” styles and aesthetics, Rauh will explore the material and visual elements of art objects through close formal analysis to unpack the artistic processes of modernity in the region. One of her primary case studies is Iraqi artist Hanaa Malallah (b. 1958). Malallah’s monochromatic paintings (1980s–today) transform the destructive process of burning into an additive process on the canvas plane, thus revealing and reveling in the destructive aspects of art modernism and its colonial imbrications. Malallah’s art career attests to the dynamic Baghdad art scene while reflecting that art world’s dispersal due to ongoing warfare. Rauh will study Malallah’s artistic method collaboratively with the artist in London, while gathering vital information from her personal documents as well as herself as a living archive of the Iraqi art community and Institute of Fine Arts operating under Saddam Hussein and later foreign invasions. Rauh’s project will contribute to scholarship on Iraqi art history by locating art objects and practices in their specific regional contexts, while simultaneously positioning these art works as catalysts that complicate and upend discourses and interpretations of modern art on a global scale.

US Research Fellowships for 2015: Clarence Moore

Clarence Moore, Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for his project Tribal Alliance Behavior in Iraq.

Clarence Moore

Clarence Moore

Clarence Moore’s dissertation asks: under what conditions does violence against civilians reduce popular support for violent actors and their causes? In addition to asking how violence influences support for outcomes such as religious government and democracy, Moore ties political orientations to tribal alliance behavior in Iraq. He proposes that because tribal leaders resist control by outsiders and draw their authority from popular support, tribal alliance behavior is a process based on sectarian geography, coercive violence by insurgents, and civilians’ and tribal leaders’ reactions to that violence. Though academics and policy analysts agree that many Sunni Iraqi tribes had turned against militants by 2007, there is currently no explanation of why some tribes switched sides and others did not. To answer this question, Moore will complete fieldwork in Amman, Jordan. He will use semi-structured interviews and surveys conducted with Iraqi refugees to develop a typology of violence and sort regions of Iraq according to the type and scale of violence they experienced. This information will allow him to assess the relationship between location, violence, and alliance behavior.

US Research Fellowships for 2015: Alissa Walter

Alissa Walter, History, Georgetown University, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for her project Ba‘thist Baghdad: A History of Non-Elite City Life under Authoritarianism, Wars, and Sanctions.

Alissa Walter

Alissa Walter

Alissa Walter’s dissertation presents a history of Baghdad’s lower classes as they experienced regime changes, urbanization, authoritarian governance, wars, and sanctions in post-colonial Iraq, with a focus on the Ba‘thist period (1968–2003). Centering her study on Baghdad provides insights into how government, party, and society interacted in the center of the capital city. Drawing on archival research in England and France (and other non-TAARII funded research sites), Walter will study the transformations of neighborhood social institutions, including black markets, smuggling rings, charitable organizations, welfare systems, religious movements, and neighborhood committees during the tumultuous years of the Ba‘th regime. Her conclusions about the social transformations of Baghdad under Ba‘th Party rule will point to the long-term factors that contributed to violent societal breakdown and sectarianism post-2003. Her research project is positioned to provide valuable insights to historians to understand everyday life under the Ba‘th regime as well as to political scientists who are concerned with contemporary developments in Iraq.

US Research Fellowships for 2015: John Caleb Howard

Jon Caleb Howard, Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University, received a TAARII US Research Fellowship for 2015 for his project The Mechanics of Scribal Production of Neo-Assyrian Royal Inscriptions.

John Caleb Howard

John Caleb Howard

The goal of Jon Caleb Howard’s project is to reconstruct the process of scribal production of the royal inscriptions of Ashurnasirpal II in the Northwest Palace at Kalḫu. Howard intends to do this by studying variation between manuscripts of the Standard Inscription and the inscription that appears on colossi and on the throne-base, within the architectural and artistic context of the Northwest Palace. The heart of his project is the compilation of a score of these two compositions based on collation and legible photographs of the reliefs, so that variation between manuscripts may be observed, cataloged, and interpreted. Since there remain some reliefs and sculpture from the Northwest Palace that do not have published legible photographs, Howard will visit collections in England, France, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark where they are on display in order to collate and photograph them.

Conference: “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives”

In September 2015, The Women Forum and Memory organized an international conference on “Oral History in Times of Change: Gender, Documentation and the Making of Archives,” in Cairo, Egypt. The conference was organized in co-operation with The Supreme Council for Culture in Cairo and UN Women. It was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Women Forum and Memory, which aims to produce alternative knowledge by constructing an archive of women’s voices.

The conference brought together scholars, researchers, students, artists, and practitioners to exchange views and experiences regarding the challenges of documenting oral histories in times of change. It focused on methodological and theoretical issues regarding the documentation of oral history and the creation of archives. The major questions that participants were urged to address included: What are the potential and limits of oral history projects in times of change? What are the challenges facing oral historians in such times? How can oral history empower women to become active participants in politics? What are the challenges posed by the digital revolution in the field of oral history? What are the challenges to the construction of a “representative” archive of voices in times of conflict?

Lucine Taminian (center-right) discussing oral history with researchers from Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

The three-day conference started on September 13. Participants came from fourteen countries: Algeria, Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

The conference program consisted of eight panels, three keynote presentations, and two round tables. Other activities included the screening of two films, “Four Women of Egypt” and “In the Shadow of a Man,” and the Exhibit of the Private Papers of Wedad Mitiri (1927-2007), who was a prominent figure and unionist in the Egyptian national leftist movement. Recorded interviews with her were played while we walked through the exhibit.

I was invited to present a paper on “Oral History in Times of Conflict: Ethical and Methodological Issues.” My presentation was informed by my experience as senior researcher for TAARII’s Iraqi Oral History Project (IOHP), where more than 180 Iraqis living outside Iraq were interviewed. I explored the following questions, using examples from the oral histories we collected: Why do people remember what they remember? How does memory work? What challenges do oral historians face when documenting oral histories in times of conflict? How do the methods and ethics of documenting oral histories differ from other research methods and ethics?

Panel participants fielding questions from the audience (Photo courtesy of Alaa Hameed, 2015)

Three additional panelists raised the challenges entailed in using oral histories. Sandra Hale, who has worked extensively in Sudan, questioned the application of “expert knowledge” as intervention in crisis. She raised three interesting questions: How can scholars interpret the various forms of knowledge produced by fact-finding missions, “truth” and reconciliation commissions, and witnessing and testimonies? How can we retrieve a form of knowledge from either the collective memory or individual memories to guide us in conflict resolution? Is indigenous knowledge/memory more valid than information produced by “experts” with its claim of “objectivity”? Nadje al-Ali from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), whose project documented the oral histories of Iraqi women, explored the issue of using oral histories when the prevailing narratives are politicized, contested, and linked to power struggles. Finally, Hessah Lootah, from United Arab Emirates University, talked about the challenges involved in “preserving” oral heritage, which entails reducing it and transferring it from an action-interaction space into one of “reading” and “classification.”

A number of presenters in other panels raised the issue of social media as a source of oral history. For instance, Randi Degulhem, from The Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research in France), researched two websites of Syrian activists (she calls them “amateur historians”) who collect short testimonies, video narratives, paper publications, graffiti, etc., and place them on the websites to document the history of the Syrian uprising. Nahawand Eissa, from the Lebanese University, shed light on the narratives of what she called “historian-citizens” who created new spaces made possible by recent advances in technology to document their memory without mediators. These presentations raise two related issues: how oral is an online text, and the relationship between orality and writing.

A number of presenters approached the multiple genres of oral history: popular working class songs, novels as depository of oral history, memoirs, testimonies, and drama as an archive of women’s experience.

The first round table, “Archives and Power,” focused on state control over the production of documents and archives, and raised two questions: If the state controls the production of documents, what about documents in the times of the Internet? And, how does state control limit/facilitate researchers’ access to an archive? The second round table, “Feminist Archives and the Production of Alternative Knowledge,” concerned three major questions: What is the nature of a “feminist archive”? What is alternative knowledge? What are the criteria for identifying knowledge as worthy of being preserved and documented?

The American University in Cairo has offered to publish a select number of conference papers in a special issue of Cairo Papers in Social Science (CPSS), a quarterly refereed monograph series, which has become a digital publication as of 2015.

The conference participants having dinner at a Mamluk Palace functioning currently as a cultural center (Photo credit: Lucine Taminian, 2015)

Our Institutional Members: American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) & Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS)


The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) is located in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), and is Iraq’s only non-profit, independent, liberal arts-inspired institution of higher learning. The Institute of Regional and International Studies (IRIS) is the University’s research and policy center.

Through multidisciplinary research projects, strategic partnerships, a fellowship program and open dialogue events among experts and influential public leaders, the University and its Institute examine the most complex issues facing the KRI, Iraq, and the Middle East, most notably during the annual Sulaimani Forum. The Institute’s main focus areas include but are not limited to: energy, governance, gender, IDP crisis, post-ISIS areas, water resource management, and archaeology.

Partnerships and Collaboration

AUIS and IRIS partner with scholars and institutions on research projects, conferences, and exchanges.

Through our fellowship program, AUIS and IRIS can offer scholars a safe and dynamic place to be based while conducting research and fieldwork on the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, or neighboring states. Please find the fellowship information and application here. If you have further questions and are interested in applying, please email us at You can find a list of past and current fellows here.

AUIS and IRIS are also interested in collaborating with universities, institutes, and organizations on student and faculty exchanges, to implement research projects or hold conferences and roundtables on academic subjects or current events. Our location and student body and staff allow a great deal of access to a variety of places and institutions around the KRI and Iraq.


AUIS and IRIS Faculty and Staff

AUIS faculty, IRIS staff, and fellows regularly conduct research and publish on topics related to Iraqi studies, especially with regard to digital archiving initiatives and archaeological excavation, gender studies, religion, and energy policy.

  • Professor Bilal Wahab is an expert on energy policy, and publishes and comments often on energy issues in Iraq and the KRI. Here is one of his recent publications, “Iraq and KRG Energy Policies: Actors Challenges and Opportunities.
  • Professor Edith Szanto has published extensively on Twelver Shi’i rituals, and conducts research on Sufism in the KRI.
  • Professor Choman Hardi is an expert on gender studies, and publishes on gender, genocide, migration, and the women’s movement in the KRI. Her book, Gendered Experiences of Genocide: Anfal Survivors in Kurdistan-Iraq, was chosen by the Yankee Book Peddler as a UK Core Title.
  • Professor Tobin Hartnell is an archaeologist and is working on a variety of projects in the KRI. His most recent work on the Sasanian Empire (224 – 651 CE) is published in the Journal of Ancient History.
  • Professor Elizabeth Campbell is a historian and her research focuses on religion in Iraq and Christian-Muslim relations. She is currently working on a project with UCLA to digitize local manuscripts and documents.
  • IRIS Director Christine van den Toorn has conducted research on local politics all over the KRI as well as disputed territories. Her current focus is on post-ISIS territories. She publishes frequently in Iraq Oil Report, Niqash, Inside Iraqi Politics, and Daily Beast.

The recently launched IRIS Iraq Report (IIR) offers on-the-ground reporting and analysis on Iraq’s most pressing issues and aims to provide decision-makers and experts with solid research and analysis of Iraq policy. The Report is unique because it is produced in Iraq, and is based on in-country fieldwork as well as open source research. The first IIR, titled “Challenges and Opportunities in post-ISIS Territories: The Case of Rabia,” can be found here.

Brief Background on AUIS

AUIS opened its doors in 2007 with several dozen students and now has over 1,400. Most faculty at AUIS hail from the United States, but also from countries around the world. Classes are all in English, and students must graduate from the rigorous year-long Academic Preparatory Program (APP) before entering the undergraduate program. AUIS offers majors in International Studies, Business Administration, English and Journalism, Information Technology, and Engineering. Inside the classroom, professors use lecture and discussion-based pedagogy rather than the traditional rote memorization used in Iraq and other regional states. AUIS also offers students the opportunity to engage in a variety of extracurricular activities similar to that in the U.S.: Debate Society, Model UN, sports teams, Shakespeare Club, and community service projects.

The student body hails from all over the Kurdistan Region and Iraq. The majority is from Sulaimani, the University’s host city, but there are large representations from Erbil and smaller towns like Ranya and Halabja. In addition, 18% of the student body is from “Iraq proper,” mainly from the capital, Baghdad, but with representations from Najaf, Kerbala, Basra, Anbar, Diyala, and Ninewa.

For more information please visit the AUIS website and IRIS website.

IRIS contact:

AUIS contact: or

Conference Report: Radical Increments – Toward New Platforms of Engaging Iraqi Studies

A Conference Report by Alda Benjamen, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, and TAARII Representative

On April 24 and 25, 2015 Columbia University in the City of New York hosted a conference focusing on Iraqi studies, entitled “Radical Increments: Toward New Platforms of Engaging Iraqi Studies.” The conference was co-organized by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawa (Columbia University), Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh (Portland State University), and Dr. Abeer Shaheen (Columbia University), and sponsored by the Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies Department, and Dr. Aziz and Arwa al-Shaibani. One of the goals of the conference was “to create an informed space to address major intellectual and political issues pertinent to Iraq in a manner that bears practical utility.” As a result the conference successfully intertwined speakers from interdisciplinary fields who presented rich material pertaining to institution building and spaces, secular and religious politics, literature, and Iraqi Diasporas. Presenters included highly noted academics, alongside more junior scholars with intriguing academic projects. Also accounted for were internationally acclaimed Iraqi novelists, Iraqi government representatives, and NGO activists. All panels, with the exception of one, were in English, the last being in Arabic. The intermix of disciplines and perspectives fostered an engaging conference.

Introductions by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi, conference co-organizer (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

The conference commenced with a welcome speech given by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi and opening remarks by Dr. Lila Abu-Lughod (Columbia University). This was followed by an opening presentation by Dr. Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Iraq Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations, who provided statistics about Iraqi higher educational institutions and the number of students enrolled inside the country and abroad with government funding. In his presentation, he strived to paint a picture of Iraq as a country with a positive future, irrespective of the decades of violence the country had been subjected to. Dr. Eric Davis (Rutgers University) gave the keynote address entitled “‘Covering’ and ‘Uncovering’ Iraq: Memory, Place, Authenticity,” in which he challenged the popular representations of Iraq as either an artificial society based on sectarian divides or a fifth column to neighboring countries, especially Iran. Instead, he argued that multiple Iraqi representations existed, where positive, civic and inclusive ones could be created as well. In his presentation, he demonstrated how Iraqi youth transgressed sectarianism within their civic society organizations and cultural production programs, such as the popular television show, “Love and War.” Davis argued that inside Iraq, teachers, academics, intellectuals, newspaper and journal editors were crucial in rebuilding Iraq’s educational system and teaching youth critical thinking skills based on the country’s history. He also advised the international academic community to stop viewing Iraq’s development, including how it was represented, as a “spectator sport,” concluding with “those of us who care about Iraq must be committed to helping it.”

Keynote address by Dr. Eric Davis (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Eric Davis, “Anti-Sectarian activity, Iraqi youth 2013″ (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Eric Davis, “Many Iraqis refused to celebrate their Eid in solidarity with Christians in Mosul” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh, conference co-organizer (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Yasmeen Hanoosh chaired the first session of the conference: “Institutions, Infrastructure, Space.” The session included a presentation by Dr. Abeer Shaheen, “God’s Eye View into Transparent Baghdad.” Shaheen described how Baghdad came to be defined as a city under security parameters following the U.S. invasion in 2003. The imposition of physical barriers, such as walls between neighborhoods based on sectarian divides, further segregated Baghdadis. In “Baghdad Resolve: An International Collaboration to Improve Cancer Care in Iraq,” Claudia Lefko of the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, described the formation of an international connection project in 2012 where American children sent art to hospitalized Iraqi children diagnosed with cancer. She provided concerning statistics about the increased mortality rate in Iraq for children under five years of age, as well as the increased cancer rates for children in general. Adding to this dilemma was the decline in Iraqi social organization and schools, along with the isolation of Iraqi doctors given years of instability and war. In “Virtual Realities: The Wartime Labor of Eden in Iraq’s Marshes,” Dr. Bridget Guarasci (Oberlin College) described the material dimension of virtuality, which she tackled by engaging in an international project that aimed to restore the marshes in Iraq post 2003. Eden’s restoration came to be considered by the international community the success story of the Iraq war, though it had little effect on the actual marshes and local population. Guarasci considered the marshes restoration project the hyper simulation that did not correspond to reality. Finally, Dr. Emily Stetler’s (Mount St. Mary’s University) presentation, “Education for a New National Identity: Sketching an Iraqi Critical Pedagogy,” stipulated that Iraq’s prospects lie in the ability of its diverse youth to envision a future. An inclusive curriculum that engaged all communities was crucial in this vision. As Stetler concluded, for “Sunnis, Shi‘is, Assyrians, Turkomens, Kurds and Caucasians, the conversation begins in the classroom.”

Dr. Bridget Guarasci, “Virtual Realities: The Wartime Labor of Eden in Iraq’s Marshes” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Slide presentation by Dr. Bridget Guarasci, “Narrative Labor on Eden” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Henrik Andersen, “The Politics of Corruption and Organized Crime in Contemporary Iraq” (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

Dr. Mohammad Salama chaired the second session, “Secularism, Religion, Politics.” Dr. Jabbar al-Obaidi’s (Bridgewater State University) presentation was entitled, “Iraqi Media Post 2003: An Analytical, Historical, and Political Overview.” In it, al-Obaidi described the five types of media ownership existing in Iraq post 2003: Sectarian Media Ownership, Ideological Media Ownership, Independent Media Ownership, and American Media Ownership. The Independent Media was the smallest type of media ownership, with fewer financial abilities but with an independent and inclusive voice. Al-Obaidi concluded by stressing the need for an inclusive rhetoric and denouncing the employment of racist terminology by these agencies.

Henrik Andersen (independent researcher) discussed corruption in Iraq in his talk, “The Politics of Corruption and Organized Crime in Contemporary Iraq.” He described the intricate connections linking militias to Iraqi politicians and parties. As a result, average citizens felt disconnected from the state and distrustful of its ability to protect them. Andersen further described the state of corruption in other government agencies and ministries in both the Iraqi central and the KRG regional governments. Finally, the presentation of Yaseen Raad (American University of Beirut) was read in absentia as he was not able to secure a visa to the U.S. His presentation was entitled, “Consolidating Socio-Spatial Practices in a Militarized Public Space: The Case of Abu Nuwas Street in Baghdad.”

Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi chaired the third session, entitled “Iraq in Literature.” Dr. Moneera al-Ghadeer (Columbia University) described the “Cannibalizing Iraq,” as relating to colonial violence, and focused specifically on the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib prison carried out by American soldiers. Daniel Wolk’s (University of Chicago) presentation, “Confronting Corruption in the Iraqi City from Afar: Ṣakhī’s Khalfa al Saddah/Durūb al-fiqdān and al-Dāhūdī’s Dhākirat madinah munqariḍah,” described conceptual frameworks of corruption in Iraqi novels. Dr. Ikram Masmoudi’s (University of Delaware) talk, “Desertion: Then and Now,” compared the massive population flights of Yezidi, Christian, Sunni, and other Iraqis following the occupation of the Islamic State of Mosul and its vicinities in the summer of 2014, to the state of desertion Iraqis experienced during the Iran-Iraq war. Masmoudi argued that the Iraqi psyche was still narrated by the past and words such as “deserter” occupied the mind of contemporary Iraqi novelists, as desertion then and now conveyed a perennial response to coercion, abuse and killing. Dr. Mohammad Salama’s (San Francisco State University) presentation titled, “A Mimesis of the Future: The Dialectic of Writing and Forgetting in Luay Ḥamza ‘Abbās,” argued that ‘Abbās’ writing triggered an alternative thinking of effaced cities and mutilated memories in order to articulate a mimesis of the future which did not currently exist.

The fourth session, “Diasporic Continuities” was chaired by Dr. Jabbbar al-Obaidi. Deborah al-Najjar (University of Southern California), in “Iraq and the Consolidation of Grief,” engaged with cultural production as an imaginative space in which Iraqi Studies was re-conceptualized. She focused specifically on Dr. Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse Washer. Dr. Sobia Khan (Richland College), in “Enacting Disaster: The Iraqi Nights, a Site of Conflict and Crisis,” discussed the anguish for the homeland in Dunya Mikhail’s writings, befittingly evoked by Mikhail in this verse: “homeland. I am not your mother, so why do you weep in my lap like this every time something hurts you?” The Arabic original of this verse was written along an image of a broken brick wall, resembling a Sumerian tablet. Reemah al-Urfali’s (American University in Cairo) presentation, titled, “Translating Iraqi Women’s Literature: Between Gender and Genre,” described the ways in which Iraqi female writings were translated to English, relying on certain political ideologies and gender expectations intelligible to English readers. Finally, Dena al-Adeeb (New York University), in “Architecture of Trauma: Embodied Practices and Resistance,” focused on the Shi‘i practices of mourning post 2003 and their utilization in new political, religious, and social formations to transform previously marginalized Shi‘i communities from the periphery to the center.

Panel participants Samuel Shimon, Dr. Taher al-Bakka, Dr. Jabbar al-Obaidi, Shakir Noori, Ali Badr, and Dr. Ikram Masmoudi (Photo Credit: Alda Benjamen, 2015)

The fifth session, chaired by Dr. Ikram Masmoudi, was presented in Arabic and titled, “Writing in Post-Occupation Iraq: Session in Arabic with Translation.” The first speaker was Dr. Taher al-Bakka, former Minister of Higher Education in Iraq, 2004–2005. Al-Bakka provided background on the effects of the 2003 war and absence of power on higher education. During this period, 1,600 Iraqi professors left their posts and 500 were killed. In the aftermath of the war, Iraqi political parties heightened their influence on academic institutions, whereby their religious and political views were imposed on universities (for example, certain deans forced female students, including Christians, to wear the Islamic veil). Al-Bakka concluded with ways in which universities can improve, chiefly in being politically and religiously independent. Turning to the audience, he stated: “Iraq and its higher education are in need of your pens and your intellects.” Samuel Shimon (Banipal Literary Magazine, U.K.) discussed his literary career focusing on his novel Iraqi in Paris. He also shed light on his current memoir, which will tackle his experience in the Iraqi civil war of the 1970s — although an Assyrian, Shimon fought in the Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi regime. Shimon further explored the importance of teaching tolerance, and how Iraqi pluralism was reflected in his novels. Shakir Noori, (Iraqi journalist and novelist) illustrated the important relationship between a historical period and the novel. He lamented the absence of the Iraqi novel within this genre and described his role in rectifying this by writing war novels. As a novelist, Noori wrote while war was going on instead of waiting for it to end, preferring not to distance himself from the immediate sentiments associated with war. Finally, Ali Badr (Iraqi journalist and novelist) described his numerous novels, including The Tobacco Keeper and the Sinful Woman. He vividly illustrated a lucid dream while stationed in Alqosh as soldier in the 1990s. He woke up to write what he considers to be his masterpiece, The Road to Moutran Hill, a novel about a Christian character, in 24 hours. Badr was 22 years of age at the time.

The closing remarks were provided by Dr. Muhsin al-Musawi. He introduced plans for the formation of an Iraqi Center, where larger conferences on Iraqi studies can be organized. The conference co-organizers are planning to publish the conference proceedings, along with additional compelling submissions on the topic, in a co-edited volume.