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

Photos: An abandoned school in Iraq has become a city of refugees

Diego Cupolo writes for Quartz:

Displaced by war and unable to find room in overcrowded refugee camps, Iraq’s Yazidis are increasingly taking shelter in abandoned buildings. Living in the concrete skeletons of unfinished structures and shielded from the rain by little more than a patchwork of tarps, countless families from this embattled ethnic minority struggle daily for access to clean water and basic services.

In Sharya, Iraq, where a refugee camp of 17,000 is filled to capacity, displaced Yazidi families can be found living throughout the ruined town, occupying everything from handmade structures to a large school building that was never completed. At least 500 people now live in the school, whose owner is rumored to have fled to Europe.

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Iraq Army Renews Mosul Offensive

Sharon Behn writes for Voice of America:

Iraqi forces renewed their offensive toward the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul on Wednesday, pushing their way into villages on the southeastern outskirts of the city under cover of heavy coalition airstrikes.

The offensive had stalled out for several weeks after Iraqi forces met stiff resistance after managing to retake just three out of an original target of eight villages from Islamic State fighters.

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Concern Grows for Yazidi Hostages in Mosul

Sharon Behn writes for Voice of America:

Yazidi advocates and rights activists say that, as Iraqi forces gear up to retake the northern city of Mosul, they are concerned about the safety of hundreds of women held by the Islamic State group as hostages, prisoners and sex slaves.

"Some women need urgent help, some women are traumatized, some women have been violated – punished many times," said activist Khidher Domle.

He said rescued Yazidis have reported that women who have tried to run away from the militants and are recaptured are punished and thrown into IS-run prisons. They include foreigners.

It’s important “before starting the liberation process of any area” to find out from activists where victims are and how to deal with them, Domle told VOA on the sidelines of a conference at a Yazidi temple in this northern Iraqi village.

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Up to $800 Million of ISIS Cash Has Been Destroyed: U.S. Official

Conor Gaffey writes for Newsweek:

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is struggling to stay financially viable after coalition airstrikes destroyed up to $800 million of the group’s cash reserves, a U.S. military official has said.

Major General Peter Gersten, the U.S. deputy commander for operations and intelligence against ISIS, told reporters on Tuesday that around 20 airstrikes had been conducted targeting cash stockpiles held by the group. Gersten, who is based in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, said that estimates put the total amount of money destroyed at between $500 million and $800 million. In one incident, an estimated $150 million was destroyed in an airstrike on a house in Mosul, he said.

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Oil Companies’ Bet on Kurdistan Turns Sour

Selina Williams writes for The Wall Street Journal:

Oil companies that piled into Iraqi Kurdistan after Saddam Hussein’s ouster are running into trouble, unraveling the region’s promise as source of easy-to-drill oil and threatening Iraq’s production surge.

Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. have been exploring for oil in Kurdistan since 2012, but have yet to develop anything. Two of the region’s leading producers are stumbling: Genel Energy PLC in February said its largest oil field had only half the oil it thought, while Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. said it is running out of money to pay its debts because of low oil prices and the lack of regular payments from the Kurdistan Regional Government for the oil it has pumped.

The regional government’s Ministry of Natural Resources declined to comment.

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Iraq reports first outbreaks of bird flu in 10 years

Reuters reports:

Iraq reported this week six outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus that occurred between mid-December and early February in the first occurrence of the disease in 10 years, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said on Tuesday.

Overall the virus killed 77,101 birds, mostly on farms, prompting the culling of another 641,498 birds as part of protection measures, it said, citing information from Iraq’s agriculture ministry.

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Flow of Fighters to Iraq, Syria to Join Islamic State Has Slowed, U.S. Says

Paul Sonne writes for The Wall Street Journal:

The number of foreign fighters arriving in Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State has declined to about 200 a month from as many as 2,000 a month a year ago, a top commander in the U.S.-led campaign against the extremist group said Tuesday.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, Deputy Commander for Operations and Intelligence for the U.S.-led campaign, attributed the drop to progress by coalition forces and their partners on the battlefield, which he also credited for driving out some combatants who were already there. A year ago, the U.S. estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 fighters a month were flocking to the fight from the Middle East and Europe.

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U.S. volunteers seek adventure fighting Islamic State alongside Kurds

Stephen Kalin writes for Reuters:

Towering over his Kurdish partner at a checkpoint in northern Iraq, U.S. volunteer John Cole cuts an unusual figure on the road to the newest front in the war against Islamic State.

Seven feet (2.1 meters) tall and holding his assault rifle upside down, Cole is among a relatively small band of Westerners who have made their own way to Iraq to take up arms against the militant group - even though Kurdish authorities say they need foreign money and weapons more than men.

Exactly how much fighting Cole has done is unclear, but the 23-year-old said that - unlike most regular U.S. soldiers stationed nearby - he has participated in offensives against Islamic State that involved artillery fire and airstrikes.

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Iraq: Sadr supporters in mass protest for political reform

BBC News reports:

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Iraq's capital, Baghdad, in protest at a months-long political crisis and lack of reform.

Supporters of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr marched towards the Green Zone, where the government is based.

He wants Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to press ahead with a plan to replace ministers appointed on the basis of political affiliation with technocrats.

Powerful parties in parliament have so far refused to approve the reshuffle.

Systemic political patronage has aided corruption in Iraq, depleting the government's resources as it struggles to cope with declining oil revenue and the cost of the war against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

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Scarred Yazidi boys escape Islamic State combat training

Stephen Kalin writes for Reuters:

When nine-year-old Murad got the chance to flee from Islamic State - the group that repeatedly raped his mother and slaughtered or enslaved thousands from his Yazidi minority - he hesitated.

So powerful was the indoctrination during his 20-month captivity in Iraq and Syria that the boy told his mother he wanted to stay at the camp where Islamic State had trained him to kill "infidels", including his own people.

Now in the relative safety of Kurdish-controlled territory, Murad's mother told Reuters how she had struggled to persuade her son - like other Yazidi boys being prepared for battle - to escape earlier this month with her and his little brother.

"My son's brain was changed and most of the kids were saying to their families 'Go, we will stay'," she said, declining to give her name. "Until the last moment before we left, my son was saying 'I will not come with you'."

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