Our first guest this Wednesday will be Erik Gustafson, Executive Director of EPIC: Enabling Peace in Iraq Center. EPIC was founded by veterans of the Gulf War in 1998. We’ll also be joined by Gene Jones and John Feagan from the Florida Veterans for Common Sense.
Erik writes: “One timely topic worth discussing will be Iraq’s pro-democracy movement which has hardly received the attention it deserves. More protests are planned for this Friday “in Baghdad and across southern Iraq. The protests are being organized to show public opposition to Iraq’s parliament. As you can imagine, most Iraqis are terrified by the prospect of being abandoned by the U.S and international community and falling further under the rule of Iran-backed militias and corrupt parties. At the same time, they also fear another war.”
During the regime of Saddam Hussein, news reports in the mid-1990s told of a public health and humanitarian crisis in Iraq compounded by comprehensive United Nations trade sanctions. Children who were dangerously ill could not receive adequate life-saving health care, young people were unable to attend school due to poverty or a lack of basic necessities, and a significant part of the country was malnourished. Iraqis were cut off from the outside world while human rights defenders who dared to speak freely were jailed or killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Recognizing the need to act, EPIC was founded in 1998 by veterans of the Gulf War who believe that a human security approach can make Iraq safe and prosperous again. EPIC brought together veterans, Iraqis, aid workers, doctors, faith communities, and concerned Americans as a grassroots movement took hold. EPIC became a leading voice in the United States, amplifying the authentic concerns of everyday Iraqis and leading the conversation in Washington on the impact of economic sanctions and human rights violations.
Today, EPIC works one-on-one with civil society leaders in Iraq to provide relief to vulnerable populations, monitor the crisis to better inform public policy, and enhance understanding of Iraq’s story. EPIC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization registered in the District of Columbia and operates with three full-time employees, an eight member Board of Directors, and numerous volunteer advisers based in the United States, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere around the world. EPIC’s ultimate vision is a safe and prosperous Iraq in which all citizens live with the freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to live with dignity.
EPIC’s strategy is based on a human security approach to aid relief and policy-making. Our goals are to educate Americans about the value of Iraq, provide emergency assistance to the country’s most vulnerable populations, and convince the international community to remain engaged in Iraq while providing the humanitarian, security, and political support necessary to break the cycle of violence. EPIC’s capacity to add value is rooted in our 20 years of experience working on the issues, our networks in Iraq and around the world, and our reputation as an independent, impartial, and non-partisan organization.
Erik K. Gustafson is Executive Director of Enabling 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, Gustafson has hosted dozens of policy forums and led humanitarian advocacy on Iraq in Washington DC. In 2008, he 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 civil society throughout Iraq.
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