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

Away from Iraq’s front lines, the Islamic State is creeping back in

Loveday Morris writes for The Washington Post:

The Islamic State is nearing defeat on the battlefield, but away from the front lines its members are seeping back into areas the group once controlled, taking advantage of rampant corruption in Iraq’s security forces and institutions.

Police officers, judges and local officials describe an uneven hand of justice that allows some Islamic State collaborators to walk, dimming Iraq’s chances of escaping the cycle of violence that has plagued the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

In the western city of Ramadi, retaken a year ago, officials say evidence against the accused disappears from police files, while witnesses are too scared to testify. A bribe of as little as $20 can buy a laminated security pass granting access to the city.

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Far from Brooklyn, Iraq’s hipsters declare war on poor dress sense

Ayat Basma writes for Reuters:

With their waxed moustaches, precision-clipped beards and dapper clothes, members of the Mr. Erbil gentleman's club look like the smarter residents of Brooklyn or Shoreditch.

But rather than the hipster neighborhoods of New York or London, this is Erbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdish region - just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the grim battle to drive Islamic State fighters from their last bastion in the country.

Although an oasis of calm in a country torn apart by war since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, Erbil has been unable to provide its young people with the opportunities they crave, say the men who set up their club last year to change that.

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British Militant Carried Out Suicide Attack in Iraq, ISIS Says

Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura writes for The New York Times:

They called him Abu Zakariya al-Britani — the surname means “the Briton” — and they say he blew himself up on Monday in an attack at a village southwest of Mosul, Iraq.

The claim, in a communiqué from the Islamic State, immediately revived fears about foreign fighters who have moved to Syria or Iraq to join the group’s ranks. But in Britain, it prompted even more troubling allegations.

Several British news organizations — including the BBC, The Times of London and The Guardian — reported Tuesday evening that the man was Jamal Malik al-Harith, a native of Manchester, England, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2001; detained by the United States in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2002 to 2004; and released to Britain, where the government later awarded him 1 million pounds, about $1.25 million at current exchange rates, to settle a lawsuit.

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Iraqi forces on Mosul hilltop gird for fierce fight ahead

Susannah George and Qassim Abdul-Zahra write for AP:

Iraqi troops worked to secure a strategic hilltop overlooking Mosul’s international airport and a nearby military base on Tuesday, fearing the Islamic State group, which still holds both facilities, may launch another wave of nighttime counterattacks.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi forces advancing on western Mosul from the south have not seen the waves of car bombs that troops confronted when they moved into eastern Mosul late last year. But the latest battle, launched on Sunday, is still in its early stages.

As the militarized Federal Police stationed in the hilltop village of Abu Saif scanned a nearby cluster of houses for militants, they spotted around a dozen civilians waving white flags. The soldiers called out for them to approach.

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Taking western Mosul from ISIS: Five key questions

Tim Lister writes for CNN:

A familiar pattern is emerging as Iraqi forces begin the final phase of their offensive to clear ISIS fighters from western Mosul.

They edge towards the city limits, using artillery and airstrikes to soften up the terror group's defenses. ISIS retaliates with suicide bombs, exploits its tunnel networks and activates sleeper cells elsewhere in the city.

A long battle of attrition is underway, with some 750,000 civilians caught in the middle. For the Iraqi army and government, the prize is clearing ISIS from the last city it holds in Iraq.

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Answering ‘cultural genocide’: Iraq’s looted treasures to be displayed at Venice Biennale

Hannah Ellis-Petersen writes for The Guardian:

The Iraq Museum of Baghdad is to display 40 ancient artifacts at the Venice Biennale this year, including several that were recently returned after its looting in 2003. The exhibition will be the first time all the objects have been legally allowed out of the country.

Ancient clay pots, medical objects, musical instruments and figurines of deities and animals will be among the items on display, some of which date back to 6,100 BC.

It will be the first time since 1988 that permission has been granted for anything from the museum’s collection to leave Iraq. The museum reopened in 2015 after being closed for 12 years while the stolen and smuggled objects taken during the invasion of Iraq were recovered.

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Sunni Women Tell of ISIS Detention, Torture

Human Rights Watch reports:

Fighters from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) are arbitrarily detaining, ill-treating, torturing, and forcibly marrying Sunni Arab women and girls in areas under their control in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said today.

Although accounts of gender-based violence have emerged from areas under ISIS control, these are the first cases against Sunni Arab women in Iraq that Human Rights Watch has been able to document. Researchers interviewed six women in Kirkuk, to which they had escaped from the town of Hawija, 125 kilometers south of Mosul and still under ISIS control. Human Rights Watch and others have extensively documented similar abuses by ISIS fighters against Yezidi women.

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Iraqi forces launch offensive to drive IS from western Mosul

Bram Janssen reports for AP:

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a major air-and-ground offensive Sunday to retake western Mosul from Islamic State militants and drive the extremist group from its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Ground units pushed into a belt of villages outside the country’s second-largest city, and plumes of smoke rose into the sky early in the morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery.

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Blowing up houses, digging up graves: Iraqis purge Islamic State

Isabel Coles writes for Reuters:

The mood was festive as seven men each carried a bomb into a house on the edge of a village in northern Iraq.

Dozens of residents of Rfaila, young and old, had flocked to watch the house of their former neighbour Abu Maitham be blown up, filming the spectacle on phones to the sound of patriotic music blaring from a parked car.

They said Abu Maitham joined Islamic State militants who ruled over hundreds of towns and villages like Rfaila for more than two years, subjecting the local population to a life of violence and privation.

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Iraq’s Bashiqa brings back the booze to clear IS hangover

Marisol Rifai writes for AFP:

Surrounded by the ruins of pastel-coloured buildings still bearing slogans glorifying the Islamic State's "caliphate", Wissam Ghanem is having a slow day selling beer, vodka and whisky.

Iraqi forces expelled the jihadists from his town of Bashiqa, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) northeast of Mosul, in December but it was badly damaged and few people have returned.

"Only about 40 families have come back. There's still no electricity nor water and schools haven't reopened yet," Ghanem said in his little shop, wearing the traditional sherwal baggy trousers.

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