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

Turkish tanks drill on Iraqi border week before Kurdish vote

Tuvan Gumrukcu and Maher Chmaytelli write for Reuters:

Turkish tanks carried out drills at the Iraqi border on Monday, the army said, a week before a referendum across that frontier on Kurdish independence that Ankara has called a threat to its national security.

The exercises came as Turkey, the central government in Baghdad and their shared neighbor Iran all stepped up protests and warnings about the looming plebiscite in semi-autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq.

Iran, which like Turkey fears fuelling separatism in its own Kurdish population, warned of unspecified consequences if the vote went ahead.

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Islamic State suicide bombers attack coalition base in Iraq

AP reports:

The U.S.-led coalition says several Islamic State suicide bombers have attacked one of its bases in northern Iraq, without causing any Iraqi or foreign casualties.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, the coalition spokesman, says all the attackers were killed.

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Iraqi forces capture area on Syria border from Islamic State: military

Maher Chmaytelli and Ellen Francis write for Reuters:

Iraqi armed forces on Saturday dislodged Islamic State from a natural gas-rich border area with Syria, according to the military.

Iranian-backed forces fighting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army simultaneously announced the start of an offensive to reach the same border area from the opposite side.

An Iraqi military statement said Akashat, a desert region located south of the Euphrates river, was captured in an offensive which had been announced earlier in the day.

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Transcript of AP interview with Iraqi PM

AP reports:

A transcript of an interview Saturday with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi by The Associated Press.

AP: I’m going to start off by asking you about the referendum that is upcoming in the Kurdish region in Iraq. It appears the referendum is going to go ahead as planned on Sept. 25 and if it is held, I’m interested in what your response will be.

Al-Abadi: Well our position is that it is unconstitutional, it is illegal, there is nothing that will be taken seriously out of it. It’s like taking public opinion but for us it is illegal, it clearly contradicts the constitution. And especially when it’s done with a vision that there is a problem within the region itself, the Kurdish region. The parliament hasn’t been held for 22 months, so there is a constitutional, legal crisis inside the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and this is a very, very bad move for the Kurdish population, the Iraqi Kurdish population.

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Iraq’s Kurdish parliament backs Sept 25 independence referendum

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

The parliament of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region approved a plan on Friday to hold a referendum on independence on Sept. 25, ignoring opposition from Baghdad and the wider region as well as Western concerns that the vote could spark fresh conflict.

Parliament reconvened in Erbil, the seat of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, where an overwhelming majority of the Kurdish lawmakers taking part backed the plan.

Hours after the decision, the White House publicly called for the first time on the KRG to cancel the referendum, warning that the vote was “distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS (Islamic State) and stabilize the liberated areas.”

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The ruins of Mosul have exposed the future of high-tech warfare

John Beck writes for Wired:

Lieutenant Ahmed Abbas Ali burns his finger as he lights the fuse on his chunk of C-4 plastic explosive. A momentary flash of pain pushes aside all thoughts of the car bomb. He's bent over a battered white Chevrolet saloon containing several canisters of explosives wired to an incredibly sensitive pressure trigger. Ali had defused two nearby improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the past half hour, cutting the wires of bombs half buried by the roadside. This one, though, is too dangerous to tamper with. It is one of Daesh's newest and most dangerous IEDs, the same design that had killed several of his comrades over the past few months. So he decides to blow it up.

The car is parked on a quiet street in west Mosul's Islah al-Zarai, a middle-class district of two- and three-storey houses sprawled behind concrete walls. Iraqi forces had retaken it from Daesh a fortnight previously there was still fighting nearby. Some local residents had already returned to their homes. Others never left.

The dozen or so soldiers acting as an escort to Ali's four-strong explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit hammer on metal gates along the street, shouting orders to clear the block as men, women and children emerge squinting into the fierce June sunshine. An officer radioes in the co-ordinates to a command post and, in brisk Arabic, requests permission to detonate.

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War and dysfunctional politics threaten Iraq’s marshlands

The Economist reports:

The recovery of southern Iraq’s marshlands is arguably one of the great environmental triumphs of recent times. Reduced to dust and withered reeds when Saddam Hussein drained them to flush out rebels in the 1990s, the wetlands once again buzz with birds, dragonflies and the songs of buffalo-breeders, thanks to the devoted efforts of Iraqi conservationists. But the renewed symphony may be the marshes’ swan-song. A water crisis rooted in wasteful irrigation, climate change and dam-building is imperilling them again.

A weakened flow into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers means that salt water from the Persian Gulf can now seep upstream into the marshes. This, coupled with farming run-off that has boosted salinity, again threatens wetland wildlife, vegetation and the local Marsh Arabs who have depended on them for millennia. Jassim al-Asadi, a conservationist brought up in the marshes before Saddam drained them, fears that no more than half the 5,600 square kilometres slated for restoration will survive in the years ahead. “It is a nice place now,” he says. “But what about the future?”

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Volunteers rescue thousands of books from Mosul library destroyed by Islamic State

Linda Mottram and Connie Agius write for the Australian Broadcasting Company:

The volunteer effort to save what was left of Mosul University library after it was destroyed by IS has renewed hope for the city after more than two years of occupation.

The library once contained hundreds of thousands of ancient documents, including a ninth-century Koran, before it was burned down in a deliberate attempt to erase culture.

But Mosul local and amateur photographer Ali ِAl-Baroodi, who once taught at the university, has led a community campaign to restore what remained of the library's collection.

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The Islamic State is on the run in Iraq, but some major battles remain

Tamer El-Ghobashy, Joby Warrick and Mustafa Salim write for The Washington Post:

Iraqi security forces have freed most of northern Iraq from the grip of the Islamic State. But U.S. and Iraqi officials warn that thousands of militants remain in the country and are ready to wage a ferocious fight in a desert region bordering Syria.

The bulk of the war against the Islamic State was finished when Iraqi security forces reclaimed the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar this summer. But the battle looming in western Anbar province is expected to be one of the most complex to date.

The vast region will be difficult to surround, and clearing it will probably involve coordination among the U.S.-backed forces and the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran. U.S. officials also believe that the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is hiding there.

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Western powers press Iraq Kurd leaders to shelve ‘very risky’ independence vote

Raya Jalabi and Ulf Laessing write for Reuters:

The United States and Western allies pressed Iraqi Kurdish leaders to ditch a “very risky” independence vote on Thursday, presenting an alternative plan in an attempt to avoid conflict between the oil rich region and central government in Baghdad.

The referendum, slated for Sept. 25, has become a potential flashpoint in the region, with Western powers concerned it could ignite conflict with Baghdad and divert attention from the war against Islamic State militants.

“Heading into a referendum for Sept. 25, there is no prospect for international legitimacy,” Brett McGurk, a U.S. special envoy, told reporters after a delegation also including the U.N. and Britain met Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

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