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

Retaken Mosul Towns Still Battle-Stricken, Await Aid

Susannah George writes for AP:

The bodies of two dead Islamic State fighters have been lying on the sidewalk in front of Muhammad Jassim's house in eastern Mosul for the past week. Both of the corpses were burned, abused and decapitated, one was partially covered by a pastel floral bed sheet.

"This isn't something we want our children to see," Jassim said, coming out into the street to approach a group of Iraqi special forces officers touring the recent territorial gains. "I asked them to please take the bodies away, the smell is terrible."

As Iraqi forces settle into a routine of slow, steadier progress inside Mosul, more civilians remain trapped living along front lines for longer. Jassim's Mishraq neighborhood was declared liberated from IS nearly a week ago, but remains too dangerous for most aid groups to visit as it lies just a few hundred meters from ongoing clashes.

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Americans adjust to a changed role in Iraq

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for LA Times:

By the time Iraqi forces recaptured this sprawling airfield once known as “Key West” from Islamic State last summer, the militants had ruined everything: The Olympic-size pool, the track, the PX store, dining hall, even the runways, plowed under and rendered unusable.

But it was a significantly changed scene that U.S. Air Force Col. Rhett Champagne surveyed last week as he stood onthe main landing strip, his radio buzzing with news of an Iraqi C-130 preparing to land and load supplies for the battle to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State.

Qayyarah West Airfield, more commonly known as “Q-West,” has become a nerve center for the operation at Mosul, 40 miles north, and a headquarters for U.S. troops who are advising the Iraqi Army in their effort to defeat the militant jihadi organization.

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IS shows no sign of weakening as Mosul battle enters third month

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Islamic State fighters have stepped up counterattacks on Iraqi forces in Mosul amid bad weather as the U.S.-backed offensive to capture their last major city stronghold in Iraq enters its third month.

With cloudy skies hampering coalition air surveillance, the militants carried out attacks in three districts of eastern Mosul, al-Quds, Ta'mim and al-Nur, over the past four days, residents and security officials said on Friday.

The campaign that started on Oct. 17 has turned into the biggest battle in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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Despite landmines, snakes and dodgy gin, Iraq is an archaeological paradise

Mary Shepperson writes for The Guardian:

Before the very first time I was going to excavate in Iraq, back in 2012, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive; I mean who wouldn’t be? Thankfully the university running the project completely allayed my fears by sending me on a chemical, biological and nuclear weapons training-day, followed up with a course on unexploded ordnance and not stepping on landmines. After this I was so wholly put at ease that I thought about maybe staying at home instead.

The chemical precautions for this first project were thought necessary because we were excavating on the outskirts of Halabjah; the Kurdish town which was bombed with chemical weapons in 1988. There was a possibility that unexploded chemical shells might have buried themselves in the ground just where we happened to dig our trenches. I feel the balance of probabilities to be heavily in our favour on this particular risk, but it looks like I’ll be back there in the spring to have another go at getting poisoned. In three seasons of work I found nothing worse than some anti-aircraft rounds and a nest of baby snakes. The risks of archaeology in Iraq are generally overstated.

Iraq is in fact an archaeological paradise. There’s more archaeology in the country than archaeologists will ever be able to get to grips with or maniacs will be able to destroy. The five projects I work on in Iraq are spread across the Kurdish north and the Shia south (leaving the problematic area in the middle well alone) and they cover periods from the 5th millennium BC, at the little site of Gurga Çhiya, to the Ottoman remains on the magnificent Citadel of Erbil.

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Aleppo and Mosul are bound together by history. Now they are part of a 21st-century tragedy.

Ishaan Tharoor writes for The Washington Post:

Just 300 miles separate Mosul, Iraq, and Aleppo, Syria, two cities very much in the news in recent months. They are in the grips of separate government-led offensives to reclaim the cities from insurgent factions.

In an operation that started in mid-October, a coalition of Iraqi forces and Kurdish militias backed by the United States seized towns in the outskirts of Mosul, which has been occupied and terrorized by the extremist Islamic State group since the summer of 2014. Now they are engaged in a steady, attritional war over the city’s neighborhoods. In Aleppo, the Syrian regime, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-sponsored militias, encircled rebel enclaves, bombed civilian areas indiscriminately and finally appears to be on the cusp of reclaiming the city in its entirety.

There is much that also binds the fates of Mosul and Aleppo. As the smoke of battle clears, we’re seeing images of the devastation of two of the Middle East’s most historic cities. The ancient pre-Islamic remains of Nimrud, on the banks of the Tigris near Mosul, were systematically dismantled and vandalized by the Islamist militants. Biblical sites within Mosul were detonated. Aleppo’s Old City, once one of the Middle East’s preeminent tourist sites, famed for its souks and the medieval citadel, is a ghost town of rubble and ruin.

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Irate Iraqis Recall Horrors of IS Prisons

Heather Murdock writes for Voice of America:

As he talks, Ahmed picks through debris in Hamam Alil, Iraq, from what once was a neighbor's home, now destroyed by war. In corners of this former house, closet-like cells provide evidence the property and others like it were used as prisons, with former inmates saying as many as seven people were crammed into each cell.

“On their very first day here, Daesh brought people here,” he continues, using the Arabic expression for IS, an insult to the group. “They confiscated the house.”

Iraqi soldiers were the first to be slaughtered, he adds, followed by others, like police or government workers, or anyone suspected of disagreeing with the militants. At one point, he says, he visited nearby fields - the killing place of choice - and saw hundreds of corpses.

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The road to Mosul

Maya Gebeily writes for AFP:

There are only about 80 kilometres (50 miles) between Arbil, the developing capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region, and Mosul, the last remaining Iraqi city held by the Islamic State group. But as I learned during two weeks covering the Mosul offensive, sometimes it only takes a few dozen kilometers to go from one universe to another, passing surreal worlds along the way.

AFP photographers, video-journalists, drivers and I crossed those 80 kilometres almost every day, navigating poorly-paved roads, checkpoints, and towns scarred by both the jihadists’ two-year reign and the brutal battles it took to reach their last bastion in Mosul.

Our coverage was from that front line inside the city. But the journey itself -- the descent from bustling Arbil into war-battered Mosul -- was a story in its own right.

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Freed from Mosul, Iraqi brothers carry scars of Islamic State rule

Patrick Markey writes for Reuters:

Freed from Islamic State rule in Mosul by Iraqi forces who are fighting to recapture the city, the Hassan family bear more scars than most from two years under the jihadists' self-declared caliphate.

The family tragedy parallels Mosul's own recent history, from its storming by Islamic State in 2014, and the imposition of the group's ultra-hardline rule in its de facto capital, to the Iraqi military campaign to retake it which has led to ferocious fighting in eastern districts.

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A look inside the walls of a prison in Iraq, and into the tortured minds of female ISIS militants held there

Hollie McKay writes for Fox News:

Behind the graffiti-speckled cement walls of the Women and Children's Prison here in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, an array of female ISIS jihadists languish along with scores of prostitutes, murderers and other criminals.

“Some have been tried, some are still waiting for their sentences," the facility's female manager, Diman Bayeez, tells in her office. "They are here for various offenses … Because of ISIS, we have more and more terrorists."

The facility is designed to hold as many as 150 inmates, but it has more than double that – about 325 women and children. Of those, only a fraction are accused of terrorism.

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Voices of Iraq: Minorities on the edge of extinction

Moni Basu writes for CNN:

In the offices of a Kurdish government ministry created to promote ethnic and religious harmony, a Jewish man -- one of the last in Iraq -- reflects on his nation's past of persecution and a future darkened by ISIS.

"Iraq," says Sherzhad Memsani, "is a graveyard for ethnic and religious minorities. We never expected another Holocaust would happen. But it did."

ISIS killed and tortured Iraqis who did not subscribe to their extreme brand of Islam. Thousands of others fled their homes to escape the militant group's brutality. Now, some of Iraq's religious and ethnic minority communities teeter on extinction.

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