Iraq: 20 Years after the US Invasion and Occupation

April 10, 2023 11:00 am - 8:00 pm

Flyer for April 10 Iraq eventIraq: 20 Years after the US Invasion and Occupation

Express Newark, Lecture Hall 213
54 Halsey St 2nd floor 54 Halsey Street #2nd floor 
Newark, NJ 07102 United States


Join us for a series of events featuring scholars of Iraq and Afghanistan, as they reflect on the legacy of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq 20 years later. They will examine the relationship between racism, imperialism, and war, and look at the impact of US wars on the everyday life of people in Iraq and in the region. The speakers will also celebrate Iraq’s rich and diverse cultural life, its literature, and classical music. 

Please register here

Event program:

  • 11:30AM-1:00PM : “Iraqi literature After 2003,” a panel discussion featuring Iraqi writers Muhsin al-Ramli and Shahad al-Rawi, hosted by Amir Moosavi. 
  • 5pm : Introductory Remarks by Zahra Ali
  • 5:30-6:30pm : Discussion with Wazmah Osman (Temple University), Khaled Al Hilli (CUNY Graduate Center), Omar Dewachi (Rutgers–New Brunswick), Amir Moosavi (Rutgers-Newark), moderated by Jack Tchen (Rutgers-Newark)
  • 6:30-7:15: food and beverages
  • 7:15-8:15: Iraqi Maqam concert with Hamed Al-Saadi, Amir Elsaffar, and Safaafir


About the Speakers:

Zahra Ali is a sociologist and Assistant Professor at Rutgers University-Newark, her research explores dynamics of women and gender, social and political movements, in relation to Islam(s), the Middle East, and contexts of war and conflict with a focus on contemporary Iraq. She is interested in empire, (racial) capitalism, (post)coloniality, transnational feminisms as well as critical knowledge production and epistemologies. Ali is the author of Women and Gender in Iraq (Cambridge University Press, 2018), and co-author of Decolonial Pluriversalism (Rowman & Littlefield, Creolizing the Canon series, 2023 with Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun).

Amir Moosavi is an assistant professor in the Department of English. His research and teaching interests cover Arabic and Persian literatures and the cultural history of the modern Middle East, with an focus on Iran, Iraq, the Levant in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His courses at RU-N have revolved around Arabic and Persian fiction and film, world literature, translation studies, and war cultures. He is interested in the ways that cultural production deals with violent pasts, wars, notions of transitional justice, and representations of urban space and environmental crises. He is completing a book manuscript titled Dust That Never Settled: Afterlives of the Iran-Iraq War in Arabic and Persian Literatures, which argues for an expansion of comparative studies across Arabic and Persian literatures based on the common experience of the Iran-Iraq war and the various responses of writers to it since 1980.​

Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen is a historian, curator, writer, and dumpster diver devoted to anti-racist, anti-colonialist democratic participatory storytelling, scholarship, and opening up archives, museums, organizations, and classroom spaces to the stories and realities of those excluded and deemed “unfit” in master narratives. Professor Tchen has been honored to be the Inaugural Clement A. Price Professor of Public History & Humanities at Rutgers University – Newark and Director of the Clement Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture & the Modern Experience, since Fall 2018. Decolonizing the histories of Newark, NYC, and our estuarial bioregion is his primary focus. Tchen has written about and worked on underground archives, dialogue-driven museums, historic preservation, digital archives, the power of place, and decolonizing pedagogy.

Omar Dewachi is a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University and Associate Professor of medical anthropology and global health at Rutgers University. Trained in clinical medicine and anthropology, Dewachi’s work examines the social, medical and environmental impacts of war and violence in Iraq and the broader Middle East. His award-winning book, Ungovernable Life: Mandatory Medicine and Statecraft in Iraq documents the untold history of the 20th century rise and fall of Iraq’s healthcare under decades of US-led interventions. His forthcoming manuscript, When Wounds Travel: Chronicles of War Biology East of the Mediterranean, examines two decades of ethnographic research and public health work on conflict medicine and displacement in the Middle East, through rethinking the relations between the body, militarism and the environment. More specifically, the work documents the wide spread of conflict-related injuries and antimicrobial resistance in the context of the reconfigurations of healthcare and humanitarian geographies under decades of protracted conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Dewachi is the author of numerous publications that have appeared in medical, anthropological, and global health journals, including the Lancet.

Wazhmah Osman is an Afghan-American academic and filmmaker. She is currently an associate professor in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University. Her research and teaching are rooted in feminist media ethnographies that focus on the political economy of global media industries and the regimes of representation and visual culture they produce. In her book Television and the AfghanCulture Wars: Brought to You by Foreigners, Warlords, and Activists (University of Illinois Press, Fall 2020), she analyzes the impact of international funding and cross-border media flows on the politics of Afghanistan, the region, and beyond. She is also the codirector of Postcards from Tora Bora (Documentary Educational Resources, 2007) and the coauthor of the forthcoming Afghanistan: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University, forthcoming). She has appeared as a commentator on Democracy Now, NPR, and Al Jazeera and works with community and activist groups.

Khaled Al Hilli is PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research is a comparative examination of literary narratives written by Iraqi and American writers, primarily from 2003 to the present. In addition to exploring space and memory in the contemporary Iraqi novel, his research considers fiction as an indicator of social, political and historical imaginaries, and explores its role in the construction of racial and national identity in the US and the socio-economic factors involved in the construction of literary and cultural paradigms. 

About the Performers:

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Hamid Al-Saadi: vocal

Through his powerful and highly ornamented voice, and in his comprehensive knowledge of the intricate details of the music and poetry of Iraq, generations and layers of the maqam tradition resonate through Hamid al-Saadi’s magnificent presence on stage. The only person in his generation to have memorized and mastered all 56 maqamat from the Baghdadi repertoire, Al-Saadi is one of the few vocalists who is keeping the maqam alive today, at a time when so many elements of this profound tradition are in danger of extinction.

Born in Iraq in 1958, Hamid Al-Saadi’s artistic, musical and scholarly journey with the Iraqi maqam began from childhood, inspired by his avid love of the Iraqi and Baghdadi culture, the Arabic language, music and poetry. He studied, practiced, and performed the maqam until he became one of the more renowned and highly acclaimed musicians and scholars in this subject. He learned the art of singing and performing the Iraqi maqam from the legendary Yusuf Omar (1918-1987), who pronounced Al-Saadi as his successor. Muhammed Al-Gubbenchi (1901-1989) who taught Omar and was probably the most influential maqam reciter in history, said that he considered Al-Saadi to be the “ideal link to pass on the maqam to future generations.” Al-Saadi emigrated to the United States on an Artist Protection Fund Fellowship, and teaches weekly classes in Iraqi Maqam at Sarah Lawrence College, in addition to performing and touring around the U.S.

Amir ElSaffar: santur, vocal

Amir ElSaffar is an Iraqi-American composer, trumpeter, santur player, and vocalist working at the intersections between jazz, Western classical, and Maqam music of Iraq and the Middle East. An expert jazz trumpeter with a classical background, ElSaffar has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. He is also one of the few musicians in his generation to master the centuries-old Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) player. As a composer, ElSaffar has created a unique microtonal harmonic language that merges the Arabic maqam modal system with contemporary Western harmony.

ElSaffar tours internationally with several ensembles, including his six-piece Two Rivers Ensemble and 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra, which combine elements of jazz, contemporary music, and Maqam. He also leads Safaafir, currently the only ensemble in the U.S. that performs Iraqi Maqam with its traditional instrumentation.

ElSaffar has received commissions in the US, Europe, and the Arab world, including compositions for symphony orchestras, string quartets and small chamber ensembles, large and small jazz ensembles, Middle Eastern music ensembles, as well as hybrid projects with Raga, Flamenco, and Subsaharan African trance music, and was the composer-in-residence of the Transcultural Music program at the Royaumont Foundation in France (2016-2019). ElSaffar is a recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2013), United States Artists Fellowship (2018), and a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University (2020-2021).

Dena ElSaffar: violin, viola, joza, vocal

Dena El Saffar is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, teacher and recording artist who has performed throughout the US as well as in Europe and the Middle East. Dena is the founder and leader of Salaam (, which focuses on music of the Arab World. Salaam has released 9 albums, and was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. Specializing in violin, viola, joza and ‘oud, she has a long list of recording projects and has toured and performed with countless ensembles. She teaches the class Music of the Silk Road at Indiana University. When she is not busy performing or teaching, Dena enjoys painting, reading, hiking in nature and spending time with her family.

Tim Moore: percussion, vocal

Tim Moore had his first professional performance at the age of 12. In the ensuing decades, he’s played thousands of shows, providing the backbeat for countless bands. In 1993, he left his computer “day job” in order to fully devote his time to music. Around this time, he began learning Middle Eastern rhythms and techniques, using these skills in Salaam, and other ensembles, such as Safaafir, and Rivers of Sound. Tim is a multi-instrumentalist, recording artist and composer. He is married to Dena El Saffar, and enjoys spending his free time with their two children, Jamil and Layla.