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

With Loss of Its Caliphate, ISIS May Return to Guerrilla Roots

Margaret Coker, Eric Schmitt, and Rukmini Callimachi write for The New York Times:

Its de facto capital is falling. Its territory has shriveled from the size of Portugal to a handful of outposts. Its surviving leaders are on the run.

But rather than declare the Islamic State and its virulent ideology conquered, many Western and Arab counterterrorism officials are bracing for a new, lethal incarnation of the jihadist group.

Islamic State leaders signaled more than a year ago that they had drawn up contingency plans to revert to their roots as a guerrilla force after the loss of their territory in Iraq and Syria. Nor does the group need to govern cities to inspire so-called lone wolf terrorist attacks abroad, a strategy it has already adopted to devastating effect in Manchester, England, and Orlando, Fla.

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What to Watch For in Post-ISIS Iraq and Syria

Zachary Laub writes for The Council on Foreign Relations:

The self-proclaimed Islamic State, once estimated to have occupied a third of Iraqi and Syrian territory, has been reduced to a handful of enclaves, bringing a complicated endgame into focus. In July 2017, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul, as his troops, with U.S. backing, recaptured Iraq’s second city. In Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) recaptured the Islamic State’s self-styled capital of Raqqa in October, and the SDF and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are both closing in on the Islamic State in its final eastern redoubt.

The rapidly receding footprint of the Islamic State has raised the risks for new confrontations as various armed groups in Iraq and Syria, and in some cases their foreign backers, vie for influence in the newly liberated areas. Meanwhile, experts warn that if the victors in both countries fail to make political arrangements that accommodate civilians and facilitate the return of refugees, the hard-fought military campaigns may only lay the groundwork for future cycles of insurgency and counterinsurgency. The following is a sketch of security, displacement, and reconstruction concerns in both countries.

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Iraq Will Remain United

Haider al-Abadi writes for The New York Times:

In June 2014, the cover of Time magazine echoed a sentiment common among pundits and outsiders: “The End of Iraq,” it read. I am proud to say that three years later, thanks to the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi people, these predictions were wrong.

Since then, Iraq has steadily dealt defeats to the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, a vicious enemy that has threatened our entire region and killed innocent people across the world. Now, having liberated cities including Mosul, Tal Afar and Hawija, Iraq is poised to drive out Daesh completely. Millions of people, forced out of their towns by barbaric terrorism, are going back home. Schools are reopening and doctors and nurses are returning to health clinics. We are beginning the enormous task of rebuilding our nation.

Our people have made extraordinary sacrifices to liberate their land. Daesh thought it could exploit the vulnerability of the Iraqi state, but it underestimated the overwhelming desire of the Iraqi people for unity.

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The Kurdish people have won the moral argument — the world should embrace our independence

Kosrat Rasul Ali writes for CNN:

Many who follow what is happening in the Middle East will be wondering what's next for the failed former states of Iraq and Syria in a post-ISIS world.

Here in the arbitrarily-designated Kurdish Region of Iraq, however, this is not the case.

Fresh off a resounding independence referendum victory, the Kurdish people are resolute in moving to secure their rights, having proven themselves bulwarks of freedom -- and against terrorism -- in a gravely troubled region.

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America Is in Denial About Iraq

Emile Simpson writes for Foreign Policy:

The last pockets of the Islamic State in Iraq have still not been recaptured, and already the country’s sectarian divisions are coming out in the open as the common enemy dissipates.

On Monday, as Iraqi regular forces and Shiite militia rolled into the city of Kirkuk that lies at the center of the territories and oil fields disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued this statement: “ISIS remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace.” The U.S. commander on the ground, Maj. Gen. Robert White, said the same thing: “We continue to advocate dialogue between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy, ISIS, in Iraq.”

Translation: We have been given no political strategy from Washington, so please, everyone, just stick to our military plan until we work one out.

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America’s Opportunity In Iraq Is Ready To Be Seized

Douglas A. Ollivant writes for War on the Rocks:

The American contribution to the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIL) has given Washington a new prestige in Iraq. Indeed, the United States has an extraordinarily favorable image in Baghdad. It is hard to overstate the significance of what Iraq has accomplished in the past three years, and most Iraqis understand the key role the United States played.

Iraq has liberated virtually all of its terrain from the Islamic State, stabilized its economy, added over one million barrels per day in oil production in the southern fields, kept human rights abuses at surprisingly low levels, avoided large-scale communitarian violence, and now made important strides in stabilization and reconciliation.

But progress in Iraq is fragile. A national election scheduled for April of next year will be critical in determining the future of this vital U.S. ally.

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The rise and fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

Laris Karklis and Tim Meko write for The Washington Post:

On Tuesday, U.S.-backed forces claimed to have full control of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s onetime capital and most symbolically important stronghold. The militant group — once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq — began seizing key cities in 2014 with the capture of Fallujah, Tikrit and Mosul.

The Islamic State continued to acquire land in Iraq until the end of 2015, when opposing forces started pushing the militants out of the cities. It retreated from Mosul, its last urban center in Iraq, in July 2017. With the loss of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s remaining areas of concentration are mostly in Syria’s Deir al-Zour and Iraq’s Anbar provinces, and a few scattered pockets elsewhere.

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The Ignominious End of the ISIS Caliphate

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

History will record that the Islamic State caliphate—a bizarre pseudo-state founded on illusory goals, created by a global horde of jihadis, and enforced with perverted viciousness—survived for three years, three months and some eighteen days. The fall of Raqqa, the nominal ISIS capital, was proclaimed on Tuesday by the U.S.-backed militia that spearheaded the offensive, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias advised by U.S. Special Forces. Mopping-up operations were still going on (especially around the Raqqa stadium, which ISIS fighters had converted into an arms depot and prison), but the liberation of Raqqa marked the symbolic demise of the Islamic State’s rule.

“How far they’ve fallen. It’s a striking contrast to three years ago, when they planted the flag, in the summer of 2014, and proclaimed God’s kingdom on Earth had come again—and now they’ve evaporated,” Will McCants, the author of the best-selling book “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State,” told me.

“There are other places for ISIS to go and survive, but there’s something special about Syria and Iraq and the Fertile Crescent,” McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “It’s the theatre of prophecy. It’s where the apocalyptic drama unfolds. It’s the heartland of the historic caliphate, and it’s the scene of the final end-of-times drama, as predicted by Islamic scripture. Nowhere else in the Islamic world compares with it."

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ISIS’ brutal past, shrinking present, and uncertain future

AP and CBS News report:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians in recent history, is on the verge of collapse.

After brutalizing residents living under its command for more than three years, the militants have now lost their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and are battling to hang on to relatively small pockets of territory in Iraq and Syria, besieged by local forces from all sides. Few, however, expect ISIS to completely go away, or for the bloodshed in the two countries and the region to end quickly.

Here's a look at the rise and fall of the Sunni Muslim extremist group's "caliphate," and what to expect next.

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Iraq ousted ISIS, but ‘Mosul can never be the same again’

Moni Basu writes for CNN:

A few days ago, Mahmoud Saeed boarded a plane for a trip that is sure to be filled with trepidation.

The acclaimed Iraqi author had not seen his beloved hometown in six long years. And while Mosul had been freed from the so-called Islamic State, it would never be the same.

He knew that when he finally arrived, the city that shaped him from a young boy to manhood would be unrecognizable. Mosul had survived thousands of years of myriad rulers and cultures, but ISIS dealt it a death knell.

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