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

ISIS Expands Reach Despite Military and Financial Setbacks

Matthew Rosenberg, Helene Cooper and Nicholas Kulish write for The New York Times:

American airstrikes have killed 25,000 Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria and incinerated millions of dollars plundered by the militants, according to Pentagon officials.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have taken back 40 percent of the militant group’s land in Iraq, the officials say, and forces backed by the West have seized a sizable amount of territory in Syria that had been controlled by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

But the battlefield successes enjoyed by Western-backed forces in the Islamic State’s heartland have done little to stop the expansion of the militants to Europe, North Africa and Afghanistan. The attacks this year in Brussels, Istanbul and other cities only reinforced the sense of a terrorist group on the march, and among American officials and military experts, there is renewed caution in predicting progress in a fight that they say is likely to go on for years.

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Why the PKK is so interested in Mosul

Mahmut Bozarslan writes for Al-Monitor:

After a weeklong campaign, the Islamic State (IS) captured Mosul on June 10, 2014, with the help of local supporters. That was the beginning of a new phase in the region. After putting Mosul under its absolute control, IS attacked Sinjar where Yazidi Kurds lived. Thousands of Kurds were killed and thousands were taken prisoner. The town fell under IS control. Shocked by this development, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) moved to liberate Sinjar with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on its side. The PKK, which had shown special attention to Sinjar and the Yazidis for years, finally had the opportunity it was looking for.

The PKK joined the regional Kurdish forces and sent a 500-strong unit from its base in the Qandil Mountains to Sinjar. The PKK leadership announced that it would withdraw forces after liberating Sinjar.

But that is not what happened. After liberating Sinjar from IS, the PKK stayed put. The KRG warned the PKK to leave, but instead the group set up the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), composed of Yazidis, and settled in.

Sources close to the PKK say that the organization has boosted its manpower in the area to 5,000 militants. Although this number could not be verified, it is obvious that the PKK is organizing itself.

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Iraq’s Artifacts of Exile

John Feffer writes for The Wire:

In the initial aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, looters swept through the National Museum in Baghdad and carted off 15,000 items of incalculable value. Some of these items were destroyed in the attempt to spirit them away. Some disappeared into the vortex of the underground art market. Only half of the items were eventually recovered.

In February 2015, after a dozen years in limbo, Iraq’s National Museum reopened. But it was a bittersweet reopening, and not only because of the thousands of missing treasures. That February, Islamic State (ISIS or IS) militants recorded themselves smashing priceless objects in the central museum in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq that IS had occupied since June 2014. US troops had largely left the country, and Washington had declared the war over. But the destruction of Iraq—its heritage and its people—was still ongoing.

Michael Rakowitz is involved in a massive reclamation project. Since 2007, in a project called The invisible enemy should not exist, the Iraqi American artist has been recreating the lost treasures of Iraq. He and his studio assistants locate the description of the objects, along with their dimensions and sometimes a photograph, on the Interpol or Oriental Institute of Chicago websites, which have been set up to deter antiquity dealers from buying looted artifacts. Then they set to work.

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Why Iraqis living under the Islamic State fear their liberators

Munqith al-Dagher and Karl Kaltenthaler write for The Washington Post:

While the Iraqi military and its allies may be slowly retaking cities from the Islamic State in the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, most Iraqi Sunnis fear and distrust the forces that are “liberating” them from those militants. But what do the majority of Iraqis want for their country’s future? A recent study sheds light on this, painting a picture of an Iraq deeply divided by sectarianism.

Iraqi polling firm IIACSS conducted a series of national and sub-national polls of Iraqis using scientific sampling techniques in all areas of Iraq, including areas controlled by the Islamic State, since June 2014. The results of these polls and more recent IIACSS national polls, carried out in the last few months, show that Sunni and Shiite Iraqis view the security situation in their country through very different lenses. These lenses are colored by sectarian identity.

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Haider al-Abadi’s Dangerous Gamble

Zalmay Khalilzad writes for The New York Times:

Iraq is facing major financial pressure, and the war against the Islamic State grinds on. The last thing the country needs is a major political crisis. But that’s exactly what appears to be in the works — unless the United States and Iran work together to help the prime minister avoid it.

The latest troubles began on March 31, when Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, presented a new cabinet to the country’s Parliament. That is within his right, of course, but he did so without agreement from the political parties that dominate the assembly. Most of Mr. Abadi’s nominees are reformist technocrats, people with integrity and excellent credentials — but they do not represent Iraq’s major parties, nor do they have their support.

Mr. Abadi made his move under significant pressure. There has been widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s inability to address economic and governance problems. For months, activists and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites, have been calling for a range of reforms, including shrinking the size of government, improving services, cutting wasteful spending and fighting corruption.

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‘The only way’: Iraq calls for oil production freeze

Anjli Raval writes for Financial Times :

The head of Iraq’s state oil selling company said the world’s biggest producer nations must agree to freeze production this week to prop up the crude price.

Ahead of a meeting of ministers from Opec and non-Opec countries in Doha on Sunday, Falah Alamri, director general of the oil marketing company of Iraq, said: “They should do this deal as this is the only way to support the oil price.”

“Everybody needs it and Iraq supports this deal,” he said.

The meeting in Qatar will bring together countries from defacto Opec leader Saudi Arabia to Russia and Venezuela to try to freeze output in a bid to hasten the end of an oil glut, writes Anjli Raval.

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As Islamic State is pushed back in Iraq, worries about what’s next

Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel And Phil Stewart write for Reuters:

As U.S.-led offensives drive back Islamic State in Iraq, concern is growing among U.S. and U.N. officials that efforts to stabilize liberated areas are lagging, creating conditions that could help the militants endure as an underground network.

One major worry: not enough money is being committed to rebuild the devastated provincial capital of Ramadi and other towns, let alone Islamic State-held Mosul, the ultimate target in Iraq of the U.S.-led campaign.

Lise Grande, the No. 2 U.N. official in Iraq, told Reuters that the United Nations is urgently seeking $400 million from Washington and its allies for a new fund to bolster reconstruction in cities like Ramadi, which suffered vast damage when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured it in December.

"We worry that if we don't move in this direction, and move quickly, the progress being made against ISIL may be undermined or lost," Grande said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

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Unemployment Is Driving Young Arabs Into The Hands Of Islamic State, Says Survey

Dominic Dudley writes for Forbes:

A survey of young people across the Arab world has found that a lack of jobs is seen as the biggest factor driving people into the arms of Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.

The survey quizzed 3,500 people aged 18-24 in 16 Arab countries and 24% pointed to unemployment as the main recruiter for the jihadi movement. Other factors they pointed to included the belief by those joining ISIS that their interpretation of Islam was superior to others (18%) and regional tensions between Sunni and Shia groups (17%).

Unemployment has long been a big problem around the region, in rich and poor countries alike. Frustration with a lack of job opportunities was a major factor behind the Arab Spring protests of 2010 and 2011, alongside other endemic ills such as corruption and suppression of political freedoms.

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ISIS driven out, thousands return to Iraq’s Ramadi

AP reports:

Thousands of Iraqis have returned to the western city of Ramadi three months after Iraqi troops backed by US-led airstrikes drove ISIS out of the provincial capital, the city's mayor said Sunday.

The returning families must go through security checks and are only allowed to return to areas cleared of mines and booby traps left behind by the ISIS, Mayor Ibrahim al-Osaj said.

ISIS militants seized Ramadi last May and held the town until they were driven out in December. As in other cities and towns in Syria and Iraq, the fight to retake Ramadi demolished large parts of the city. Al-Osaj said seven neighborhoods are still off-limits to residents, not only because of the presence of explosives, but because the areas are "totally ruined."

He said authorities have restored drinking water for almost 80 percent of the city, refurbished ten schools and provided up to 600 caravans for those who can't use their houses. He said around 12,000 families have returned since late last month.

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Iraq’s sectarian stance is poisoning its politics

Faisal Al Yafai writes for The National:

Haider Al Abadi has many supporters, but very few friends. Increasingly isolated, even within the wider Shia movement he is part of, Iraq’s prime minister can still rely on some public support – and a few key allies.

Those allies include Muqtada Al Sadr, a powerful Shia cleric, and the United States – which is why America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, flew in for a surprise visit last week.

Still, none of that may save his reforms or lead to the approval of his cabinet. Today is the last day for Iraq’s parliament to approve the list of technocrats he has put forward.

Mr Al Abadi’s crime – which may yet cost him his role as prime minister – is not that he has failed to move quickly enough on reforms, nor that Iraq’s political class is widely seen as corrupt, nor even that ISIL has occupied major Iraqi cities and enslaved Iraqi citizens. Rather, his crime is that he is seeking to go beyond Iraq’s sectarian political system.

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