IRIS Team

Christine van den Toorn is the Director of IRIS. She has over ten years of academic and professional experience in the Middle East, six of which have been spent in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). She has conducted fieldwork all over the KRI, with a particular focus on disputed territories in Ninewa, Diyala and Salahddin, and has published articles and reports in leading publications like Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, Iraq Oil Report, Inside Iraqi Politics, Daily Beast and Niqash as well as delivered talks on her research. Van den Toorn is a member of the Atlantic Council Task Force on the Future of Iraq. She has also conducted baseline reports and social impact assessments for international oil companies operating in the KRI and disputed territories, working with teams of student researchers from AUIS. She served in the United States Peace Corps in Morocco and holds an MA in Middle East History from the University of Virginia, and taught the subject at AUIS for 4 years. Ms. van den Toorn speaks Arabic, which she studied at Middlebury College, Georgetown University, the University of Damascus in Syria and the French Institute for Near East Studies in Damascus. For a list of her publications, please click here.

Sarah Mathieu-Comtois is the Deputy Director for Programs and Outreach of IRIS. She joined IRIS in March 2016, and has been based in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) for nearly three years, working in the non-profit sector on issues of water resources management. Prior to moving to Iraq, she worked in research, policy, and government relations in Canada, on the topics of environmental policy, food security, resource extraction, and international trade and finance. Over the course of her graduate studies, her interest for the Middle East also led her to Jerusalem, where she studied resources and conflict on the ground. Mathieu-Comtois speaks fluent English and French. She holds a MA in Political Science from the University of Toronto and an undergraduate degree (Hons.) from McGill University.

Zainab Hamid Mera is a Program Officer at IRIS. She joined IRIS in September 2017, prior to which she worked with IRIS as a Program Assistant for the 2017 Sulaimani Forum and the post-ISIS security project. She graduated from AUIS in 2017 with a B.A in Information Technology. She is interested in regional politics and technology's role in the future of politics. She speaks native Arabic and fluent English.  

Emily Burlinghaus is a Program Officer at IRIS. She joined IRIS in September 2017, prior to which she worked as a research assistant at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C. Before moving to Iraq, she spent a year abroad in the United Arab Emirates and conducted research at think tanks in D.C., including Hudson Institute and the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She graduated from New York University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies in 2015, where she studied Persian and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Through its affiliation with the University, IRIS also draws from a pool of highly qualified student interns and research assistants with unique access to their respective areas of origin. The student-body is comprised of Iraqi-Kurds and Iraqi-Arabs from across the KRI, disputed territories, Baghdad and the Iraqi provinces. In addition to their diverse geographic backgrounds, students have research experience and varying subject matter expertise on topics including Kurdish and Iraqi politics, social and religious issues, and security. All our students speak, read and write English and Arabic or Kurdish, and are fluent in all three in some cases.