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

Turkey criticizes move to raise Kurdish flag in Iraq

Sultan Cogalan reports for Anadolu Agency:

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has criticized the decision of an Iraqi provincial assembly to raise a Kurdish flag alongside the Iraqi national flag at public buildings.

On Tuesday, 26 Kurdish members of Kirkuk’s provincial assembly voted in favor of raising the Kurdish flag alongside Iraq’s national flag outside the city’s public buildings and institutions.

Arab and Turkmen members of the provincial assembly were conspicuously absent from the meeting.

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U.N. Urges Iraq and Allies to Rethink Tactics as Airstrikes Kill Civilians

Nick Cumming-Bruce writes for The New York Times:

Airstrikes against Islamic State fighters are killing so many civilians that Iraq and its American-led coalition of allies should reconsider their tactics, the top human rights official at the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said he did not underestimate the difficulty of rooting out the Islamic State forces from their remaining strongholds in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. But he urged Iraq and the coalition to “undertake an urgent review of tactics to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum.”

There were clear indications that the militants were using large numbers of civilians as human shields, he said, and under those conditions, airstrikes on densely populated areas can have “a lethal and disproportionate impact on civilians.”

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Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul

Amnesty International reports:

Hundreds of civilians have been killed by airstrikes inside their homes or in places where they sought refuge after following Iraqi government advice not to leave during the offensive to recapture the city of Mosul from the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), said Amnesty International. Survivors and eyewitnesses in East Mosul said they did not try to flee as the battle got underway because they received repeated instructions from the Iraqi authorities to remain in their homes.

The shocking spike in civilian casualties from both US-led coalition airstrikes and ground fighting between the Iraqi military and IS fighters in recent months has also raised serious questions about the lawfulness of these attacks. In one of the deadliest strikes in years just days ago on 17 March 2017, up to 150 people were reported killed in a coalition airstrike in the Jadida neighbourhood of West Mosul, eventually leading the coalition to announce that it is investigating the incident.

“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside. The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International, who carried out field investigations in Mosul.

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U.S. to Send Over 200 More Soldiers to Iraq to Help Retake Mosul

Michael R. Gordon writes for The New York Times:

The United States is sending more than 200 additional soldiers to Iraq to support the Iraqi military’s push to retake western Mosul from the Islamic State, military officials said on Monday.

The deployment includes two Army infantry companies and one platoon equipped to clear away roadside bombs. The soldiers are expected to leave for Iraq within the next 36 hours.

The troops, about 240 soldiers in all, are from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., and will reinforce the more than 5,000 troops the United States already has in Iraq.

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Mosul: 112 civilian bodies pulled from site of coalition airstrike

Ghazi Balkiz, Muwafaq Mohammad, and Arwa Damon report for CNN:

At least 112 bodies have been pulled from the site of a US-led coalition airstrike in Mosul, senior Iraqi health official Ahmed Dubardani said Monday.

The deaths have sparked renewed concerns about civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes targeting ISIS fighters in the city.

Both the Iraqi and US defense departments launched investigations Saturday into possible civilian deaths in airstrikes between March 17 and 23.

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Conflicting casualty figures a week after Iraq Mosul blast

Hamuda Hassan and John Davison write for Reuters:

Conflicting accounts emerged on Sunday about an explosion in Iraq's Mosul a week ago after a U.S.-led coalition strike against Islamic State that local officials say collapsed buildings, killing and burying many people.

Iraq's military said 61 bodies had been recovered from a destroyed building that Islamic State had booby-trapped in west Mosul, but that there was no sign the building had been hit by a coalition air strike.

The military statement differed from reports by witnesses and local officials that said many more bodies were pulled from the building after a coalition strike targeted IS militants and equipment in the Jadida district.

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U.S.-Led Coalition Confirms Strikes Hit Mosul Site Where Civilians Died

Michael S. Schmidt and Tim Arango report for The New York Times:

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Saturday that an initial review of recent airstrikes in Mosul, the Islamic State’s last stronghold in Iraq, had confirmed that the strikes hit a site where scores of civilians were killed.

The inquiry, military officials said, found that a building had collapsed a few days after strikes by American forces. United States officials are seeking to determine whether the airstrikes brought down the building, leaving many Iraqis dead, or the Islamic State used the strikes as an opportunity to detonate an explosive in the building.

The Pentagon had acknowledged on Friday that it was investigating reports that its airstrikes had caused deaths in Mosul. The next phase of the investigation, military officials said, is likely to take about three weeks.

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Face to Face with the Ghost of ISIS

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

On a crisp spring day in March, in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, I met Abu Islam, a senior ISIS leader nicknamed the Ghost of ISIS by Iraqi intelligence for his elusiveness. He was escorted into a small office with faux-wood paneling and no windows at the Special Forces Security Compound in Kurdistan. His hands were manacled in front of him; he was blindfolded by a dark hood pulled over his loose black Shirley Temple curls. Long sought by the Iraqi government, Abu Islam was notorious for running clandestine cells of suicide bombers—some of whom were as young as twelve—and carrying out covert terrorist operations beyond the Islamic State’s borders. Having had a few years of religious training, he was also tasked with teaching the unique ISIS version of Islam to new fighters. Still in his mid-twenties, Abu Islam rose to become the ISIS “emir” of Iraq’s oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

Abu Islam’s capture, in October, was one of the most important in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State. Most of the ISIS élite have fled or been killed since Iraq launched its most ambitious military offensive, late last year, to retake Mosul. “He’s a guy we chased for more than two years,” Lahur Talabany, the head of Kurdistan’s Zanyari intelligence service, told me. “To pick him up and realize that we finally got him, it was a big catch for us.”

Over the past three years, I’ve covered ISIS from Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, and at the Syrian border. In four decades covering the Middle East, I’ve interviewed the leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the rank-and-file of many other militant groups. ISIS, which has kidnapped and beheaded journalists, has been the hardest rebel group to cover. In Sulaymaniyah, courtesy of the Kurdish intelligence service, I got access to Abu Islam and, separately, to a second ISIS fighter who admitted to committing a series of rapes and murders in the course of two years.

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U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians

Tim Arango and Helene Cooper report for The New York Times:

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

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Shi’ite cleric Sadr says only Iraq’s military should hold land seized from IS

Ahmed Rasheed writes for Reuters:

Influential Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Friday that only Iraq's military should hold territory recaptured from Islamic State, an apparent sign of concern that rival militias might use the gains to expand their influence.

"It is necessary to support the Iraqi army and security forces to complete their victories in the usurped areas," Sadr told thousands of supporters at a rally in Baghdad.

"They should be the only ones that hold ground after liberating it - no others, whether the occupier, foreign forces or others," he said.

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