Iraq Oil Report's Daily Brief compiles the most important news and analysis about Iraq from around the web.

Iraqi’s rally around many flags as a national identity falters

Tim Arango reports for the New York Times:

At checkpoints across Baghdad, soldiers have defied a recent order from the prime minister to remove Shiite religious flags and replace them with Iraqi ones. At schools in the northern city of Kirkuk, students have raised Kurdish flags. And in the southern port city of Basra angry citizens have designed their own flag, anchored by the image of a single drop of oil. Then, of course, there are the black flags of the Islamic State, the extremist group in control of about a third of the country. Perhaps not since modern Iraq was created nearly a century ago by the fusion of three Ottoman provinces — Basra, Baghdad and Mosul — have more people challenged the idea of Iraq as a unified state.

Even as the new government is scrambling to defeat the militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, it faces an underlying challenge that may be tougher: promoting a new sense of national identity that, even if it cannot transcend the differences between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurd, at least basically holds them together as countrymen.

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BP’s long game in Iraq is paying off

Anthony McAuley writes for The National:

BP’s business model in Iraq has proved to be highly profitable, even as progress has sometimes appeared to be slow and plans have had to be curtailed. The London-based company had attracted scepticism when it became the first of the big-oil majors to commit to the country after the 2003 war.

BP last week marked five years since signing its technical services contract to increase production from the “supergiant” Rumaila South oilfield, one of Iraq’s oldest and a large source of revenue. In that period, said BP, the field has produced 2 billion barrels, delivering US$180bn to the government. “Now, we can’t claim all the credit for that because we inherited an existing oilfield,” said Michael Townshend, the head of BP Iraq and Middle East chief. “But what we can claim credit for is the amount of incremental production that we have delivered. So, over the last five years we can say we’ve delivered about $75bn of incremental revenue to the government and we’ve spent about $5bn to do it.”


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Iraq wins one-year reprieve on Gulf War reparations due to crisis

Stehpanie Nebehay reports for Reuters:

A United Nations body agreed on Thursday to let Iraq postpone its final payment of reparations to Kuwait for the 1990-91 Gulf War, in an effort to help ease Baghdad's cash-strapped budget. The consensus decision, reached by major powers at the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC), means Iraq will have until Jan. 2016 to begin paying its oil-rich neighbor $4.6 billion for oil fields destroyed during its invasion and seven-month occupation. Iraq's economy is being battered by low oil prices and war with Islamic State militants who control the north and west, leading the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to request the delay.

"The Governing Council adopted a decision agreeing to a postponement of Iraq's requirement to deposit five percent of oil proceeds until 1 January, 2016," Leah Kraft, legal officer of the UNCC, told Reuters. In a statement issued after the closed-door special session, the UNCC said it had taken into account "the extraordinarily difficult security circumstances in Iraq and the unusual budgetary challenges associated with confronting this issue".

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Qom, Najaf call for improved relations with Saudi Arabia

Ali Mamouri writes for Al Monitor:

Clerics and religious institutions in the Middle East can play a dual role in society, either pouring oil or water on the flames of conflicts. Prominent religious authorities in Iran's Qom and Iraq's Najaf have simultaneously called on the political leaders in their respective countries to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. The authorities stated that this move would be in the interest of all Muslims and would unite them in their struggle against terrorism and religious extremism. The request followed Saudi Arabia's adoption of a strict stance against Salafist jihadism, and pledging to reform domestic and foreign policies.

Sheikh Wahid Khorasani, a top religious authority in Qom, said on Dec. 3 it was necessary for Iran to improve relations with Saudi Arabia. The message was addressed to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, president of the Expediency Discernment Council of the System in Iran, and was delivered by Seyed Taha Hashemi. Sheikh Khorasani said that Rafsanjani must travel to Saudi Arabia to improve ties and reach an agreement. Khorasani said that this is in the best interest of the Iranian nuclear issue and the Islamic world, adding that Rafsanjani is the only one who can play this role now.


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What’s behind the recent retreat of ISIS in Northern Iraq?

PBS Newshour reports:

In recent days, pro-western Kurdish fighters, backed by American air power, have forced ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq to retreat from territory they seized last summer. For more about this, we are joined by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Cordesman previously served in the State Department and was the director of intelligence assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. So, what happened in the past few days?

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US to deploy 1,300 more troops to Iraq in January

Dion Rabouin writes for the International Business Times:

The U.S. is sending as many as 1,300 more troops to Iraq in late January, the Defense Department announced Friday. The troops will include about 1,000 soldiers in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The rest will be drawn from multiple services. “Their mission will be to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters at a briefing. “This deployment is part of the additional 1,500 troops that the president authorized in November.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed orders Wednesday for the first group of these troops to go to Iraq, the Associated Press reported. “What makes this [deployment] different is simply the geography,” Kirby noted, pointing out the advising teams will operate in the Anbar area and north of Baghdad.

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Iraqis wage new battle for freedoms

Shukur Khilkhal writes for Al Monitor:

The battle over civil liberties has erupted again, after a draft law written under the government of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest was returned to parliament in October. This draft law was presented to the previous parliament in October 2012, but it did not see the light of day because civil rights organizations in Iraq — including human rights organizations, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO) and the Iraqi Association for the Defense of Culture — resisted the law and succeed in obstructing it and preventing its ratification.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also expressed its opposition to the draft at the time. In an article published on its website, the organization called on the Iraqi government to "revise its draft law on freedom of expression and assembly to remove provisions that restrict those freedoms. The draft law would allow authorities to curtail rights to protect the 'public interest' or for the 'general order or public morals,' without limiting or defining what those terms encompass," the article noted.


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Leader of Iranian-backed militia killed in eastern Iraq

Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss write for the Long War Journal:

Wathiq al Battat, the leader of the Mukhtar Army and secretary-general of Hezbollah in Iraq, was killed yesterday in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala. Battat had formed the Mukhtar Army in early 2013 and has received support from Iran's Qods Force. The Mukhtar Army said that Battat was "assassinated today [Dec. 21] by accident in northern Diyala during the struggle with his sons against terrorism," according to a short statement released by the group. The events surrounding the "accident' were not immediately made clear. A source in the Iraqi Interior Ministry told al Quds al Arabi that Battat was killed by "unidentified gunmen," but this has not been independently verified.

The news quickly spread on Twitter, with many Islamic State supporters tweeting that the Islamic State was behind al Battat's death. The claim that the Islamic State was behind al Battat's death cannot be independently verified, and so far the jihadist group has not officially taken credit for his death.


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Iraq reality show brings ISIS terrorists, victims together

AP reports:

Haider Ali Motar was convicted of terrorism charges about a month ago for helping to carry out a string of Baghdad car bombings on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group. Now, the 21-year old is a reluctant cast member in a popular reality TV show. "In the Grip of the Law," brings convicted terrorists face-to-face with victims in surreal encounters and celebrates the country's beleaguered security forces. The show, produced by state-run Iraqiyya TV, is among dozens of programs, cartoons and musical public service announcements aimed at shoring up support for the troops after their humiliating defeat last summer at the hands of the Islamic State group, which now controls about a third of the country.

On a chilly, overcast day last week, the crew arrived at the scene of one of the attacks for which Motar was convicted, with a heavily armed escort in eight military pick-up trucks and Humvees. Passing cars clogged the road to watch the drama unfold, but were quickly shooed away by soldiers.

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Who will liberate Mosul?

Mushreq Abbas writes for Al Monitor:

Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Ninevah province, does not seem concerned by the criticism and calls to dismiss him after Mosul fell to the Islamic State (IS) earlier this year. Instead, Nujaifi appears intent on imposing himself as an essential player in the liberation of the city. He is currently visiting Washington to promote his vision of what needs to be done. Mosul's liberation, however, cannot be left only to Nujaifi’s efforts. It will require representation from all the city's ethnic, religious and sectarian communities.


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