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

AP Explains: Iraq’s slow grind to retake IS-held Mosul

AP reports:

Iraq's fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group has been the largest and the longest operation against the extremists in the nearly three years since they overran a third of the country. Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city after the capital Baghdad and was a key logistical and economic hub for IS when the extremists' footprint spanned much of Iraq's north and into neighboring Syria. Iraq's prime minister had originally pledged Mosul would be retaken by the end of 2016, but it quickly became clear IS planned to draw out their inevitable defeat, leaving destruction and human suffering in their wake.

Below is a look at what makes the remaining battle so difficult.

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U.S. Sees a Vital Iraqi Toll Road, but Iran Sees a Threat

Tim Arango writes for The New York Times:

The highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, cuts through the insurgent badlands of the western Iraqi desert, and these days any truck driver risks confrontation with roving bands of gunmen.

In the future, though, the United States envisions the road as something like the New Jersey Turnpike, with service stations, rest areas, cafes and tollbooths.

This being Iraq, though, the project has quickly been caught up in geopolitics, sectarianism and tensions between the United States and Iran, which seems determined to sabotage the highway project as an unacceptable projection of American influence right on its doorstep.

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Iraqi Forces in Mosul Plan ISIS Assault, but Fight Could Be Long

Rod Nordland writes for The New York Times:

Although the Iraqi military on Friday began leafleting areas of western Mosul still controlled by the Islamic State, warning people to evacuate because an offensive was imminent, the American military is not predicting a speedy resolution to the battle for the city.

Speaking at a news conference in London, Col. Ryan S. Dillon, the American coalition spokesman for Iraq and Syria, would not predict a timeline for the Iraqi military, supported by American advisers and air power, to finally oust the extremists. “I am confident they will retake Mosul,” he said. “This is inevitable. It will happen.”

Islamic State militants overran the city of more than one million, as well as other large stretches of the country, over just a few days in June 2014. More than two years later, in October 2016, Iraqi forces trained and advised by Americans and other coalition countries began an offensive to retake the city. Iraqi officials predicted success within a few months, but Islamic State fighters have managed to hold onto important parts of the city’s west side, including its historic center.

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Senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard killed fighting Islamic State in Iraq: Tasnim

Babak Dehghanpisheh reports for Reuters:

A senior commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed fighting Islamic State west of the Iraqi city of Mosul, the Tehran-based Tasnim news agency reported on Saturday.

It is the first time Iran has announced the death of a senior commander during the operations launched in October to drive the Islamist militants out of Mosul.

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U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS Have Killed Hundreds, Maybe Thousands of Civilians

Sarah Almukhtar writes for The New York Times:

The number of civilians killed in American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria spiked this year, as efforts to retake Islamic State strongholds intensified and as some procedures for approving airstrikes were changed.

Data compiled by Airwars, a nonprofit group that tracks reports of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, showed a significant jump in the number of reported deaths in the first three months of 2017.

The military recently confirmed that American-led airstrikes had been responsible for at least 352 civilian deaths since the start of the war against the Islamic State. But Airwars estimated that the total was eight times higher. The group found that at least 3,100 civilians were killed in American-led airstrikes from August 2014 to March 2017.

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Iraqi troops torture and execute civilians in secret videos

Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, James Gordon Meek and Randy Kreider report for ABC News:

Officers of an elite Iraqi special forces unit, praised by U.S. military commanders earlier this year for its role in fighting ISIS, directed the torture and execution of civilians in Mosul in at least six distinct incidents caught on tape.

“That's a murder,” retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann told ABC News after reviewing the graphic footage. “There should be punishment for anyone doing it. It's reprehensible and it shouldn't be allowed on any modern battlefield."

The alarming footage was smuggled out of Iraq by a prize-winning Iraqi photojournalist, Ali Arkady, who spent months embedded in combat with the elite Iraqi troops leading the fight against ISIS late last year. Since turning over his cache of photos and videos to ABC News, he says he has received death threats from the soldiers he once considered friends and has now fled Iraq to seek asylum in Europe.

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Pentagon Blames 105 Civilian Deaths From Mosul Strike On ‘Secondary Explosion’

Bill Chappell reports for NPR:

U.S. personnel "could not have predicted" that dozens of Mosul residents would be in a building where ISIS snipers were firing when they authorized a strike on it in March, the Pentagon says in a newly released report. That airstrike in Iraq killed at least 105 civilians.

"Our condolences go out to all those that were affected," said Maj. Gen. Joe Martin, commanding general of the ground force fighting ISIS. "The Coalition takes every feasible measure to protect civilians from harm. The best way to protect civilians is to defeat ISIS."

The report provides new details about a strike that devastated several families and prompted rights groups to accuse the U.S.-led coalition of not taking adequate precautions to protect people in Mosul, which Iraq is trying to reclaim from the terrorist group.

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Iraq radio show finds talent amid rubble of Mosul

AFP reports:

It’s a radio talent contest with a mission: showcasing the skills of Mosul’s youth after years of militant rule and a months-long battle for the city.

The recorded lyrics of competitor MC Rico, a rapper from Iraq’s second city, filled the studio of al Ghad – Arabic for “tomorrow”.

MC Rico is one of 93 competitors in the contest, all aged between 15 and 25. He is one of the six who made it through to last Saturday evening’s semi-final.

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NATO to join anti-IS coalition: diplomatic sources

AFP reports:

NATO is to join the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition, meeting a key demand of President Donald Trump that the alliance do more to fight Islamist terrorism, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

Trump was due to meet NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday to press his case, with the deadly IS-claimed bomb attack in Manchester high on the agenda.

Earlier Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he expected NATO to join despite reservations by some members states which are fearful of getting dragged into another conflict.

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Kurdish independence in Iraq likely ‘not if but when’: U.S. general

Phil Stewart writes for Reuters:

An Iraqi Kurdish push for independence from Baghdad appears likely to be a question of "not if but when," in a significant challenge to Iraq's stability, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said on Tuesday.

Iraq's main Kurdish parties announced in April a plan to hold a referendum on independence this year, after the defeat of Islamic State militants.

The DIA's director, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, told a Senate hearing that the ability of Iraq's Kurds to reach an understanding with the Shi'ite-dominated government in Baghdad would be essential to avoid renewed conflict.

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