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

Iraqi Shi’ite leader visits UAE, strengthening ties with Sunni states

Reuters reports:

An influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric plans to visit the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, strengthening his ties with Sunni-ruled states of the Middle East.

It will be the second such trip in as many months for Moqtada al-Sadr, who commands a large following among Iraq's urban poor. He visited Saudi Arabia at the end of July.

The Emirati government will send a special plane to fly Sadr to the UAE and return him to Iraq, according to a statement on the cleric's website.

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2 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq in Combat Operations

AP reports:

Two American soldiers were killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq, the United States military said in a statement on Sunday, adding that “initial reports indicate the incident was not due to enemy contact.”

Five other soldiers were wounded, the statement said, without providing further details. It did not identify the soldiers or where in Iraq the casualties occurred.

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In ‘liberated’ Mosul, ISIS still imperils the path to city’s revival

Scott Peterson writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

The first sign Ghaith Ali had that Islamic State militants were still active in “liberated” western Mosul was a mysterious square object on the floor of a house he entered to make it ready for returning families.

Suspecting explosives, the Iraqi policeman told the rest of his patrol to back away, but then he brushed up against the near-invisible tripwire. The blast burned his arm, sprayed him with shrapnel, and broke his leg.

The second sign Mr. Ali’s unit received of ISIS remnants was two days later, when a jihadist emerged from a basement hideout, bearing a rifle and combat vest laden with grenades, and raced to a rooftop to attack their checkpoint.

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Iraq’s Kurds stick to independence vote despite U.S. request to postpone it

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Iraq's Kurds are sticking to a plan to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25, despite a U.S. request to postpone it, a high-ranking Kurdish official told Reuters on Saturday.

The United States and other Western nations are worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.

"The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change," said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum.

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Lawyers Arrested for Work in ISIS Courts

Human Rights Watch reports:

Iraqi authorities have issued arrest warrants for at least 15 private lawyers since July 24, 2017, on charges of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation for their past work in ISIS courts, Human Rights Watch said today. While lawyers are not immune from prosecution if they engage in criminal activity, they should not be prosecuted for doing their job as lawyers, nor should the authorities associate them with their clients’ cause simply because they represented them.

All were representing ISIS suspects facing trial in Iraqi courts at the time of their arrest, raising concerns among local lawyers that the warrants were issued to intimidate lawyers defending ISIS suspects. One senior judge told Human Rights Watch that since the warrants were issued, private lawyers had stopped taking cases of any defendants that they believed to be ISIS-affiliated, only taking cases of people they thought were innocent. As a result, only state-appointed lawyers are taking on the cases of those believed to be ISIS-affiliated. Based on interviews with four lawyers, there are serious concerns that the state-appointed lawyers are not providing a robust defense of these clients.

“The authorities should immediately explain why they are detaining and charging these lawyers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They need to make it clear that Iraqi lawyers should not be afraid to defend ISIS suspects.”

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A referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq carries grave risks

The Economist reports:

The enormous new statue of a peshmerga soldier, overlooking the Baba Gurgur oilfield, just outside Kirkuk, is a stark indication of the Iraqi Kurds’ aspirations to establish an independent state with borders that stretch beyond their historic homeland to encompass some of Iraq’s richest oilfields. A referendum on independence scheduled for September 25th will probably move the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) further down that path. But the timing of the poll has been questioned, not least because it is unclear what will come after. Some fear that a vote for independence will elicit violent responses from the government in Baghdad and from neighbouring countries.

Iraqi Kurdistan, which has enjoyed relative autonomy since 1991, already has many of the trappings of a sovereign country, including an army, a parliament and its own domain on the internet. After Baghdad withheld budget payments to the region in 2014, the KRG began selling its crude independently of the federal government. Its resources were further boosted months later after Iraq’s federal army fled the oil region in and around Kirkuk when it was threatened by the jihadists of Islamic State (IS). The job of repelling IS then fell to Kurdish militias, known as the peshmerga, who did it bravely and well.

Even so, some Kurds argue that a bid for independence is premature. “Beforehand we need to have Kurdish unity and some sort of an understanding with Baghdad,” says Mahmoud Othman, a veteran politician. “We do not have either.” The peshmerga is a unified force only on paper. Its fighters’ loyalties are divided between the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the opposition Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Parliament has not convened since 2015, when Masoud Barzani, the president, had his term extended for a second time, prompting violent protests and political deadlock. Some see the referendum as an attempt by the KDP to shore up nationalist support ahead of elections in November.

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Iraq announces mandatory official holiday due to heat wave

AP reports:

The Iraqi government has announced a mandatory official holiday due to a heat wave.

Wednesday's late night statement calling for a Thursday holiday came from the Iraqi Cabinet as temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius (123 degrees Fahrenheit). It is the first heat advisory issued by the government this summer.

The public holiday applies to all government workers.

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War in Iraq, ISIS Crisis Fuels Brain Drain, Making Life Harder for Those Left Behind

Peter Schwartzstein writes for Newsweek:

It’s been 12 years since Omar Hassan Majed fled Baghdad, but it sometimes feels as if he never left home.

Hustling from room to room at his oncology clinic in Amman, Jordan, he jokes with the Iraqi nursing staff and drinks tea with the resident anesthesiologist, a childhood friend. And many of his patients are Iraqis. By the time he stops for dinner at an Iraqi grill—at the corner of Mosul and Basra streets—he’s gone hours without seeing a Jordanian.

“It sounds bizarre, I know, but there are so many Iraqi doctors here,” Majed says. “It makes me wonder if there are any still in Iraq.”

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Islamic State still a threat as Mosul residents return to city in ruins

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

Abu Ghazi stood smoking a cigarette outside what used to be his home in Mosul's Old City, where only the sound of the footsteps of a few soldiers on patrol and twisted pieces of metal and fabric flapping in the wind disturb the eery silence.

"They should just bulldoze the whole thing and start over," he said, gazing at the rows of collapsed buildings with their contents strewn across the upturned streets.

"There's no saving it now, not like this."

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Long wait for captive Yazidis’ return spent rebuilding shrine in Iraq’s Bashiqa

Khaled al-Mosuly and Maher Nazeh write for Reuters:

Yazidi men and boys in the town of Bashiqa north east of Mosul are rebuilding a shrine destroyed by Islamic State as they wait for the return of women from their community taken captive years ago by the jihadists.

They are hoping to celebrate their first religious festival for three years in the Malak Miran shrine next month but the big celebration will happen after the release of Yazidi women, taken by Islamic State when it overran the plain of Nineveh in 2014.

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