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

IS militants posing as police ‘execute’ civilians in Mosul

AFP reports:

At least 15 civilians were killed by Islamic State militants posing as liberating security forces in central Mosul, officials said on Tuesday.

The victims were killed after welcoming the militants, who were wearing police uniforms in an attempt to trick the residents into showing their support for the federal forces, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) and a local official said.

The statement did not specify how many were killed in that manner but Hossameddin al-Abbar, a member of Nineveh provincial council, told AFP at least 15 civilians were shot dead.

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As war wrecks ancient Iraq, Erbil works to rebuild citadel

Ulf Laessing writes for Reuters:

High on a rocky outcrop, just 50 miles from the fighting that is wrecking historic sites across Iraq, workers are busy laying out floor tiles, determined to save at least one ancient structure amidst the turmoil.

The team is rebuilding the last remains of the fortified citadel in the Iraqi-Kurdish capital of Erbil, constructed on top of the world's longest continuously-occupied site according to UNESCO, parts of it up to 8,000-years-old.

While Islamic State sends out suicide bombers and snipers in Mosul to the east, the authorities in Erbil are already looking ahead to the day when they can pull in more visitors.

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Iraqi troops capture largest neighborhood in western Mosul

Sinan Salaheddin reports for AP:

Iraqi troops on Tuesday drove out Islamic State militants from the largest neighborhood in the western half of the city of Mosul, a senior military commander said, a major development in the months-long fight to recapture the country’s second-largest city.

On Tuesday, special forces Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press that the sprawling al-Tanek neighborhood was now “fully liberated and under full control” of the security forces. Al-Saadi did not provide more details.

To the east of al-Tanek, Iraqi forces have been facing tough resistance from IS in Mosul’s Old City, an area that stretches along the Tigris River, which divides Mosul into its eastern and western half. The Old City’s narrow alleys and densely populated areas have made it hard for troops to move forward.

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Hundreds flee Mosul fighting as others return to former IS areas

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

Heavy two-way traffic of carts carrying children, clothes, and the elderly crowded the main Baghdad-Mosul road on Sunday as hundreds of Iraqis fled heavy fighting or made their way back to areas seized back from Islamic State.

Families paid no heed to the sound of heavy mortar, artillery and machine gun fire raging in the background as U.S.-trained Iraqi forces battled Islamic State some two km.(about a mile) away.

Some had walked miles to a government checkpoint where the men were placed in army trucks and sent for security screening to ensure no militant sleeper cells get out of the city. Women and children were put on busses and sent to camps housing hundreds of thousands, some displaced since the offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold began in October.

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Militants ambush convoy with off-duty Iraq soldiers, kill 10

AP reports:

Iraq's military says militants have ambushed a convoy of off-duty soldiers near a town in the country's sprawling western desert, killing at least 10 and wounding 20.

Maj. Emad al-Dulaimi said on Monday that the attack took place the night before near the town of Rutba. He says the militants were armed with assault rifles and rockets.

It wasn't immediately clear who carried out the attack but al-Dulaimi blamed the Islamic State group.

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Rescuing The Last Two Animals At The Mosul Zoo

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

Mosul’s forlorn little zoo, a collection of rusted cages in a park near the Tigris River, was abandoned by its keepers in October, as the Iraqi Army began to liberate the city from the Islamic State. For three months, the zoo was a staging ground for isis fighters. More than forty of the zoo animals died, either as collateral damage—trapped between warring combatants—or from starvation. By January, when the eastern half of Mosul was freed, only two animals had survived: Lula, a caramel-colored female bear, and Simba, a three-year-old lion.

Animals, like people, suffer from war psychoses, including P.T.S.D. During the most intense urban combat in history, Lula ate her two cubs from hunger and stress. Simba had been one of three lions. Simba’s father, weak and emaciated, was killed by his mate to provide food for herself and Simba. In the wild, lionesses hunt for the entire pride. She, too, soon succumbed.

Concerned about the fate of Lula and Simba, residents in Mosul sent frantic Facebook messages to Four Paws International, an animal-protection agency based in Austria, appealing for help. In mid-February, the organization dispatched Amir Khalil to Mosul. Khalil is an Egyptian veterinarian who has spent a quarter century saving animals in war zones on three continents. He found Lula deeply traumatized and starving; her snout protruded through her cage’s rusted bars, anxiously seeking food and water. Simba had grown so scrawny that his rib cage was exposed. He wouldn’t stop pacing in his small enclosure.

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Dolls, teddy bears return to eastern Mosul after Islamic State

Mohammed Al-Ramahi writes for Reuters:

Toy shops are thriving in eastern Mosul, with Iraqi children once again able to buy dolls, teddy bears or action figures after Islamic State was driven out of the area.

The militant group banned toys with faces or eyes during the three years they controlled Iraq's second largest city, including any anthropomorphic animals, which they deemed a form of idolatry.

But when U.S.-trained security forces drove the group from eastern Mosul in January, two toy stores sprang up and there are now 15, toy wholesaler Abu Mohammed told Reuters.

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In the midst of Iraq’s war against Islamic State, a bicycle culture takes root

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for LA Times:

Biking through the rubble-choked streets of this besieged city’s west side, Mohammed Kamal Mahmoud paused to explain his family’s criteria for venturing out aboard its battered, mud-caked, three-speed cycle.

“When the airstrikes are heavy, we are not driving it around,” the mechanic said. As he spoke, Iraqi military helicopters fired overhead, and a few streets away gunfire, mortars and rockets boomed.

Many of Mosul’s 1.2 million residents have been trapped between militants and Iraqi forces since the offensive to recapture the city from Islamic State began in October. While traffic has returned to the city’s east side, where the militants have been driven out, Iraqi forces still battling on the west side have barred cars — which Islamic State uses as suicide vehicles — and motorcycles.

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Huge crowds of Shiite faithful throng Baghdad shrine

AFP reports:

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite faithful thronged the mausoleum of Imam Kadhim in Baghdad Sunday for the climax of a week-long pilgrimage that saw millions converge on the Iraqi capital.

Beating their heads and chests, crowds of pilgrims lurched and swerved to try to touch a mock coffin being carried to the shrine in the northern neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah.

Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam, died in 799 AD. The commemoration has in recent years turned into a huge event that brings the Iraqi capital to a standstill for days.

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Hundreds more join Mosul exodus as Iraqi forces retake two more western districts

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Pushing carts loaded with bags, babies and the elderly, hundreds of people fled Mosul on Saturday after Iraqi forces retook two more districts in the west of the city from Islamic State.

After walking for miles, families were taken by bus from a government checkpoint in the south of the city to camps housing more than 410,000 people displaced since the offensive to retake Mosul began in October.

"We left with no water, food or electricity," said 63-year-old Abu Qahtan, the elder of a group of 41 people from five families. "We left with the clothes on our backs."

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