Schar School Alum Bilal Wahab Named President of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani

A man in a gray suit with stripes and a purple tie and eyeglasses looks to his left.
Bilal Wahab, PhD ’15: ‘I am equally honored and humbled.’ Photo provided.

Bilal Wahab, a 2015 graduate of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government’s PhD program, has been named the president of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). The not-for-profit university, founded in 2007, is among the top-ranked private universities in the Kurdistan region.

Wahab takes the reins of the 1,400-student campus from AUIS president Bruce Walker Ferguson, who announced his departure in July. The school teaches primarily in English and focuses on liberal arts, critical thinking, and leadership skills in graduate and undergraduate studies.

“I am equally honored and humbled,” Wahab said of the AUIS board of trustees’ unanimous vote for his appointment. As a AUIS faculty member from 2012 to 2016, Wahab taught courses on the petroleum industry, public policy, and international politics and founded the school’s Center for the Development of Natural Resources. His Schar School dissertation focused on oil federalism in Iraq.

Wahab came to George Mason as a doctoral student from American University when University Professor Louise Shelley moved her Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) to the Schar School from American University.

Shelley has nothing but the highest praise for her former student, who was among the first Iraqis awarded a Fulbright scholarship.

When he came to the U.S. to study at American, he was the number one choice of the Fulbright selection committee out of the many thousands of applicants,” she said. “I always knew he would be a president but the question for me was, ‘of what?’ 

“He is so articulate in English and so poised and showed such leadership. He has been such a good analyst of Middle East politics and has such great fluency in so many different languagesKurdish, Arabic, Turkish. 

“Going back to the American University of Iraq is so characteristic of Bilal,” she added. “He wants to give back and help students grow.”

As for his experience at George Mason, where he was a research assistant from 2008 to 2012 at TraCCC, “It is my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the unwavering support extended to me by the Schar School and the many scholars I studied under,” he said. “It has been a journey, but here I am, embarking on a new personal and professional chapter.”