I am a political scientist and legal scholar conducting empirical research on international humanitarian law, counter-terrorism law and policy, transitional justice, criminal law, and comparative law with a regional focus on the Middle East. Currently, I am the National Security Law Fellow at the Georgetown University Law Center.
I hold a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University, where my dissertation on the Islamic State (IS)’s system of governance in Iraq and Syria and its post-conflict consequences included articles on (1) IS’s system of taxation, (2) civilian experiences with and perceptions of IS rule, and (3) Iraqi public opinion concerning punishment, forgiveness, and reintegration of individuals who have been detained by Iraqi authorities on charges of collaborating with IS. This dissertation was based on an original dataset documenting IS’s governance activities across time and space, a door-to-door survey of 1,458 residents of the Iraqi city of Mosul, and in-depth interviews with more than 300 Syrians and Iraqis who lived in IS-controlled areas conducted during 18 months of fieldwork in Turkey and Iraq. During my dissertation research, I served as the lead researcher on Iraq and Syria for United Nations University, the research wing of the UN system, for two related projects on (1) child recruitment by armed groups and (2) post-IS transitional justice.
My current and future research aims to contribute to the development of evidence-based strategies for strengthening rule of law and state legitimacy after war. I am currently working with the International Organization for Migration in Iraq to study the effects of community policing methods on trust and cooperation between Iraqi civilians and state security forces. My work has been published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Politics, the Harvard National Security Journal, the Annual Review of Law and Social Science, Foreign Affairs, and the Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law, among others, and has been featured or cited in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Time Magazine, and Lawfare.
Before entering academia, Mara was a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Middle East Program), a Critical Language Scholar in Jordan, and a Fulbright Fellow in Oman. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Arabic from Swarthmore College.