George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

Media advisory: Experts can discuss violence, political situation in Iraq

Tue, 06/17/2014

LAWRENCE — As members of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, last week besieged Mosul, Iraq, and on Monday the northern city of Tal Afar, the conflict threw the country into chaos. Several University of Kansas faculty members are available to speak with media about the violent situation and its implications for Iraq, Middle East stability and the United States.

President Barack Obama continues to weigh military and diplomatic options to assist the government of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shiite.​

Don Haider-Markel, professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science, can speak about the political situation in the region and the involvement of groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Haider-Markel's research includes terrorism, public policy and American politics.

"ISIS is the greatest single threat to stability in the Middle East and the greatest jihadist group threat to Western countries for the next several years or more," Haider-Markel said.

Gail Buttorff, assistant professor of political science, can address the violence in Iraq and its tie to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Her research interests focus broadly on elections and opposition politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Buttorff is a contributing scholar for the Women and Human Rights in the Middle East Program at Rice University's Baker Institute. She currently teaches courses on Middle East and North African politics, Islam and politics and quantitative research methods. She is working on a book manuscript examining how perceptions of regime legitimacy affect opposition party strategy in authoritarian elections.

"The recent events in Iraq, particularly the takeover of Mosul by the extremist group ISIS, is tied to what is happening in Syria. ISIS has been playing an active role there, battling both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist rebels," Buttorff said. "The implications for the wider Middle East will continue to depend on events in Syria, but also on how well al-Maliki and his government respond to long-standing concerns over his sectarian policies."

Nazli Avdan, assistant professor of political science, is available to speak about transnational terrorism, particularly how conflicts tied to terrorist groups can spill across state borders and the politics of the Iraqi government that have created an environment vulnerable to sectarian tension. Avdan's broad research interests include international relations, international migration and transnational terrorism.

"In this case, ISIS enjoys support from Sunnis and Kurds, who benefit from the fall of the central government and greater autonomy," she said. "Terrorist groups are also successful to the extent that they can insulate the populace from violence and also provide governance at the local level, like basic needs, which ISIS propaganda says it is doing."

Marie Grace Brown, assistant professor of history, is a cultural historian of the modern Middle East with a special interest in imperialism, nation-building, gender and identity formation. She is available to comment on the creation of the state of Iraq after World War I and the historical roots of today’s conflicts.

“Our current diplomatic confusion over how to contain the advance of ISIS is clear evidence of how mistaken the West has been in assigning rigid, oppositional categories to the people and states of the Middle East," Brown said. "Casting this latest uprising as simply Sunni vs. Shia overlooks the complex and long-standing grievances and aspirations of Iraqi citizens”.

To arrange an interview with Haider-Markel, Buttorff, Avdan or Brown contact George Diepenbrock at or 785-864-8853.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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