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

Heavy metal in Iraq’s most divided city

Campbell MacDiarmid and Cengiz Yar write for Mashable:

Murad Khalid is a metalhead.

He's also a Turkmen, an Iraqi and an electrician. But those things are less important to him than fronting Dark Phantom, Kirkuk's premier – read: only –death metal band.

It's Friday morning and he's in his bedroom at his mother's house, playing guitar and smoking cigarettes. The droning sermon from the nearby mosque barely penetrates the room. Inside, it's a temple to metal. Pages torn from foreign metal magazines paper the panelling – Manowar, Metallica, Megadeth. A skull-shaped ashtray holds a collection of guitar picks. Dark Phantom was recently kicked out of their practice space, so the room is also filled with a drum kit, guitars and amps.

Mahmoud Qasim is on the carpet fixing his snare drum, guitarist Rebeen Hasem is jamming and Sarmad Jalal the bassist is playing with Khalid's long-haired Persian cat Tiger. Singer Mir Shamal, who drives to practice from the nearby city of Sulaimani, hasn't arrived yet. Khalid's bandmates are reflective of Kirkuk's ethnic mix – Turkmen, Kurdish and Arab – but they all identify as head bangers first and foremost.

They are one of a small number of metal bands in Iraq, a small part itself of the fractured heavy metal scene in the Middle East where bands mostly exist in isolation like this. Religious conservatism, social taboos and repressive governments mean most metal is viewed with suspicion and most bands remain underground.

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Iraq crisis: How tough will it be to take Falluja from IS?

Jim Muir writes for BBC News:

The battle for Falluja, which has been looming for months, seems to be finally under way.

The city has been attacked many times and bombed and shelled almost incessantly since it fell into the militants' hands in January 2014.

It has withstood all that, despite huge destruction and many casualties.

Now the government has committed itself to "liberating" the city once and for all, in an operation codenamed "Break Terrorism".

Thousands of troops, special forces, Shia militias and Sunni tribal fighters have been marshalled for the offensive, and the Prime Minister has declared that "a moment of great victory" is imminent.

But there are conflicting assessments of how tough the battle will be.

Some believe that IS has taken such a pounding in the town that its ability to resist has been sapped. Others, in touch with sources inside the beleaguered city, say the militants have long been preparing to face such an offensive and have deployed their full array of defences, including many roadside bombs and booby traps.

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Middle East: The factions behind the fight against Isis

Erika Solomon and Geoff Dyer write for Financial Times:

Looking at a map of northern Iraq, it can easily appear as if the Isis forces holding the city of Mosul are vulnerable. To the west, militia are ready to advance. To the north, south and east, army and paramilitary troops are as close as 20km away.

Yet even as these troops seem within touching distance, they are a long way from retaking Mosul. What the maps do not show are the bitter rivalries, political ambitions and regional power struggles behind the forces gathered around Iraq’s second-largest city, hindering what will be one of the most important campaigns in the war against the jihadis.

“If you think there is some grand plan for this — well, there is no plan,” says one Iraqi security official.

 In the two years since Isis shocked the world by seizing Mosul and large swaths of Syria and Iraq, the US-led coalition battling the group has made progress. Isis has lost 46 per cent of its Iraqi territory and 16 per cent of its holdings in Syria, according to the Pentagon, faster than US officials had thought likely. Recent momentum has lulled many regional players into a sense of confidence, almost as if the war was over.

“Everyone has forgotten about Isis,” says one UN official in Iraq. “They are busy positioning themselves for the war after Isis instead.”

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Iraq Says Clashes With IS Outside Fallujah Briefly Subside

Sinan Salaheddin reports for AP:

Clashes between Iraqi government forces and the Islamic State group outside the city of Fallujah briefly subsided on Tuesday, the second day of a large-scale military operation to drive militants out of their key stronghold west of Baghdad.

Backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and paramilitary troops, mostly Shiite militias, Iraqi forces launched the offensive on Sunday. The push to take Fallujah is expected to be a challenge for Iraq's struggling security forces due to defenses put up by the militants and the thousands of civilians who remain there. IS has held the city for more than two years.

In nearby Garma, Mayor Ahmed al-Halbosi said engineering teams were clearing booby traps from houses and government buildings on Tuesday — a day after capturing most of the town. Garma is just east of Fallujah and is considered a main supply line for IS.

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In Baghdad it’s not all the smoke of bombs, drifting is catching on, too

Judit Neurink writes for Rudaw:

It’s five o’clock on a Friday afternoon in the Baghdad area of Zeyouna, and it’s racing time. In a city that sees almost daily bombings, weekly rallies of fast cars still attract crowds of mostly young men.

“We love cars,” says one of them, hanging about with drivers of BMWs, Challengers, Infinitis and even Mustangs, all showing the capabilities of their cars.

The smoke rises high into the sky behind the mosque where the rodeo-ground is situated and the smell of burned rubber is thick in the air. Tires shriek and smoke, while engines roar and bits of rubber fly around, when drivers drift their cars on their pumped-up front tires.

With the black humour that Baghdadis are known for, they call this ‘executions’, and the cars used are mainly fast ones that have been adapted for the races but are also still driven around the town.

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The heartbreaking stories of Iraq’s orphans

Mohammed Tawfeeq writes for CNN:

Photographer Ali Arkady started his dangerous journey to Baghdad, Iraq, in July.

He had one goal: spend close to a year with a group of Iraq's orphans, a story he wanted the world to hear about.

Thousands of children have lost their parents in Iraq's recent bloody past, but many of them are cared for by extended family.

These children are the forgotten ones, with no family to take them in.

Arkady packed his gear and spent nine months with 33 children at a safe house for some of Iraq's most neglected.

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Iraqi Leader Announces Offensive on ISIS-Controlled City of Falluja

Falih Hassan and Tim Arango write for The New York Times:

Iraqi forces have begun an assault on Falluja, a city that has been held by the Islamic State longer than any other in Iraq or Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised speech on Monday.

“Today, we will tear down the black flags of the strangers who have kidnapped this city,” Mr. Abadi said, referring to the flags of the Islamic State that have been flying in Falluja for more than two years, in a speech just after midnight, alongside military commanders.

By daybreak, it did not appear that forces had begun entering the city, but only that mortar and artillery rounds were being fired on the city from afar. That had been the case for months, as army units and Shiite militias, many of which operate outside the control of the Iraqi government and answer to Iran, lay siege to the city.

Mr. Abadi and other Iraqi leaders have frequently made bold statements heralding new military offensives, only for the efforts to stall on the ground.

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Iraqi Forces Gear Up for Operation to Retake Fallujah

Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch write for The Wall Street Journal:

The Iraqi government appealed to residents of Fallujah on Sunday to prepare to leave the Islamic State stronghold ahead of a long-planned assault, even urging them to raise white flags at their houses if they couldn’t.

The military’s Joint Operations Command said that civilian families would be allowed to leave the city through designated safe passages, though it didn’t specify how departures from the city would be arranged.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces, police, tribal fighters and Shiite militias would be taking part in the operation, according to the military. But it wasn’t clear when the assault would start on one of the Sunni extremist group’s last major territorial holdings in Iraq.

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Iraq denies using live fire against Green Zone protesters

Reuters reports:

Iraq denied on Sunday that its security forces had used live ammunition against protesters who broke into Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone this week.

Sources from four hospitals and Baghdad's central morgue said four protesters had been killed and 90 injured by gunshot wounds on Friday in the zone, which is in the center of the capital and is home to parliament, government offices and embassies.

But Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, said an initial investigation showed there had been only two deaths and no direct gunfire.

"There is no evidence that the two deaths were caused by direct gunfire on the protesters, and there are no other cases," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

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Iraq crisis: Green Zone protests end in violence

BBC News reports:

Calm has been restored in Baghdad, hours after security forces opened fire to stop protesters storming the Green Zone, reportedly injuring dozens.

Tear gas and live bullets were fired to drive back the mainly Shia Muslim crowds, as they protested against corruption and security failures.

Officials imposed a curfew in the Iraqi capital, which has now been lifted.

It was the second time this month that protesters had managed to break into the city's government area.

Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr condemned the use of force, and voiced support for the demonstrators' "peaceful [and] spontaneous revolt".

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