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

Iraqi forces launch offensive to drive IS from western Mosul

Bram Janssen reports for AP:

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a major air-and-ground offensive Sunday to retake western Mosul from Islamic State militants and drive the extremist group from its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Ground units pushed into a belt of villages outside the country’s second-largest city, and plumes of smoke rose into the sky early in the morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery.

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Blowing up houses, digging up graves: Iraqis purge Islamic State

Isabel Coles writes for Reuters:

The mood was festive as seven men each carried a bomb into a house on the edge of a village in northern Iraq.

Dozens of residents of Rfaila, young and old, had flocked to watch the house of their former neighbour Abu Maitham be blown up, filming the spectacle on phones to the sound of patriotic music blaring from a parked car.

They said Abu Maitham joined Islamic State militants who ruled over hundreds of towns and villages like Rfaila for more than two years, subjecting the local population to a life of violence and privation.

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Iraq’s Bashiqa brings back the booze to clear IS hangover

Marisol Rifai writes for AFP:

Surrounded by the ruins of pastel-coloured buildings still bearing slogans glorifying the Islamic State's "caliphate", Wissam Ghanem is having a slow day selling beer, vodka and whisky.

Iraqi forces expelled the jihadists from his town of Bashiqa, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of Mosul, in December but it was badly damaged and few people have returned.

"Only about 40 families have come back. There's still no electricity nor water and schools haven't reopened yet," Ghanem said in his little shop, wearing the traditional sherwal baggy trousers.

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Iraqi Civilians Pay Heavy Price as Attack on ISIS in Mosul Nears

David Zucchino writes for the New York Times:

Several hundred thousand civilians are enduring desperate conditions and facing retribution by Islamic State fighters in western Mosul as Iraqi forces prepare to attack militants who control the city’s western half, according to residents and humanitarian groups.

In telephone interviews, residents said the Islamic State was using food as a weapon, doling out small amounts to hungry families in return for information gained by spying on neighbors suspected of aiding Iraqi security forces. They said several residents accused of phoning security forces with information about Islamic State activities had been killed in recent weeks.

Food, water and fuel for cooking and heating are unavailable or are being sold at prohibitive prices in the area’s densely packed neighborhoods. Militants have begun hoarding food and supplies while restricting the movements of civilians in anticipation of a government assault, residents said. Stray animals are wandering nearly empty streets.

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Baghdad Car Bomb Kills Scores in Shiite Neighborhood

David Zucchino reports for The New York Times:

A car bomb exploded in a crowded Shiite Muslim neighborhood in Baghdad late Thursday afternoon, the latest terror attack in the capital claimed by the Islamic State, security officials reported. At least 54 people were killed and at least 63 more wounded in the bombing, making it the deadliest in Baghdad in at least a month.

The attack came as Iraqi security forces, backed by American military advisers and Special Operations forces, prepared to assault an Islamic State stronghold in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, about 225 miles north of Baghdad.

Security officials said the bomb in Baghdad went off in a parked pickup truck. Ambulances responding to the scene quickly filled to capacity, so the police and civilians helped transport other victims to hospitals, according to Abu Jafar, a police commissioner.

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In the half of Mosul freed from Islamic State, life returns to not-quite normal

Nabih Bulos writes for LA Times:

In parts of this northern Iraqi city, life seems routine. People flock to sidewalk barbecue joints and falafel stands. Shops are open. Traffic snakes through run-down thoroughfares.

But war intrudes closer to the Tigris River, the line now separating government forces on the east side of the city from Islamic State jihadis bunkered in the west.

Soldiers nervously train Russian-made heavy machine guns skyward in a hunt for weaponized drones or compulsively squint at the thickets along the riverbank, firing at any sign of movement. Fearing Islamic State snipers, weary residents scurry through open spaces and past makeshift barriers meant to stop car bombs.

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AP PHOTOS: Iraqis displaced from Mosul marry in refugee camp

Bram Janssen reports for AP:

A bleak refugee camp in northern Iraq saw a rare outpouring of joy on Thursday as Hussein Danoon and Shahad Abed celebrated their wedding less than a month after fleeing the fighting in Mosul.

Before their wedding, the 25-year-old Danoon and his 16-year-old bride were taken to a beauty salon outside the camp and dressed in Kurdish clothes. The two are Arabs, but the camp management said the clothing symbolized coexistence.

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After Mosul, jihadist threat to Iraq will grow: Kurdish intelligence official

Michael Georgy writes for Reuters:

If Islamic State is driven from its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, it will switch tactics to wage an insurgency from mountains and deserts, a top Kurdish intelligence official has told Reuters.

Lahur Talabany, a senior figure in Kurdistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, also expressed concerns that another group similar to the Sunni Muslim Islamic State could emerge to menace Iraq again if political leaders fail to secure reconciliation between sects.

"Mosul will get taken ... I think it is the asymmetric warfare that we need to be worried about," he said.

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Stuck Without Water in Mosul, Neighbors Find a Way

David Zucchino and Ben C. Solomon write for The New York Times:

The water taps are dry in Rashidiya.

The water and sewage system collapsed in this eastern Mosul neighborhood after 100 days of street combat. On Sunday, Haitham Younis Wahab and his neighbor Shamsuldeen Ahmed Saed decided to do something about it.

The two men pounded and dug for three days. Sixteen feet down. Twenty feet down. Nothing. And then, 26 feet beneath the cracked sidewalk, they struck water. After all, they live just a half mile from the muddy Tigris River, which divides eastern and western Mosul.

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Mosul bombings temper residents’ relief at Islamic State pushback

Stephen Kalin writes for Reuters:

The first blast, down the street from his uncle's restaurant in eastern Mosul, sent Mohammed Badr racing towards the door to check the situation. The second one, moments later at the entrance of the restaurant itself, knocked him off his feet.

Together, last Friday's twin suicide bombings killed 14 people and fractured the sense of safety and relief that many residents felt after Iraqi forces pushed the jihadists out of their neighbourhoods in months of heavy street-to-street fighting.

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