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

Iraq launches operation to retake Anbar town

AFP and Reuters report:

Iraqi security forces and allied fighters launched an operation on Monday to retake the town of Rutba from ISIL.

Special forces, soldiers, police, border guards and pro-government paramilitaries are involved in the operation to retake the Anbar province town, Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said.

Tanks and artillery are taking part in the operation, which is also backed by air support from Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition against ISIL, the statement said.

Rutba, located in western Anbar province along the main road to Jordan, has been held by the extremists since 2014.

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Bombs Hit Markets in Shiite Baghdad Areas, Kill at Least 36

Sinan Salaheddin reports for AP:

A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 36 people, officials said — the latest in deadly militant attacks far from the front lines in the country's north and west where Iraqi forces are battling the Islamic State group.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though it bore the hallmarks of the extremist IS group, which has been behind recent deadly attacks in the Iraqi capital and beyond. Since its blitz in the summer of 2014, IS has controlled significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country's second-largest city of Mosul.

The deadliest bombing on Tuesday took place in Baghdad's northeastern Shaab neighborhood, where at least 28 people died and 65 others were wounded.

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Iraq Shut Down Its Internet to Prevent Sixth-Graders From Cheating

Kaveh Waddell writes for The Atlantic:

The exam room is quiet, and you’re on a roll. You’re calculating percentages and ratios like a pro when suddenly—could it be? You forget the difference between a mean and a median. You slip your phone out of your pocket and stealthily open Google, but it won’t load. You glance at your neighbor and see the same look of panic on her face and a blank screen on her phone, too. Is Internet service down in the whole building?

If you’re one of the many thousands of sixth-graders taking a series of national exams in Iraq this month, it’s not just the building. The Internet is down in most of the country—and it’s because of the exams themselves.

The arms race between cheaters and test administrators is nothing new, and handheld devices that can connect to the Internet have tipped the scales in favor of test-takers looking for a little help. But the Iraqi government has taken the sledgehammer approach to the problem: This is the second year in a row that it has ordered Iraqi telecom companies to shut down to the Internet in order to prevent cheating, according to human-rights groups. The research arm of Dyn, an Internet analytics company, logged a pattern of three-hour long blackouts starting three days ago.

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Partitioning Iraq: Make a Detailed Case, or Cease and Desist

Ben Connable writes for War on the Rocks:

Iraq is once again in political turmoil, and once again we are hearing calls to partition the country into three ethno-sectarian cantonments: Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd. The partition trope resurfaces periodically, most often while Iraq looks “too hard to fix.” Advocates of partition suggest that Iraq is a false construct of the century-old Sykes-Picot treaty, and that Iraqis are incapable of sustaining a heterogeneous state. Putting aside the fact that the Sykes-Picot narrative is at best contested, it is time to put the partition trope to the test and then, hopefully, to rest. The mostly non-Iraqi voices who want to divide the country into thirds owe the Iraqi people and the rest of the world extensive, detailed clarification. Surely, any plan to drastically restructure Iraq must be more thoughtful and detailed than the widely condemned 2003 plan to invade Iraq. At the very least, advocates for partition should address some fundamental questions. If they cannot answer these satisfactorily then they should pause before reissuing what many Iraqis view as disheartening, and even inflammatory, positions about their state.

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American Mennonites Are Going to Iraq — to Fix Windows

Campbell MacDiarmid writes for Vice:

Chad Martin, a ruddy-faced 22-year-old American, is driving a pickup truck through the rubble-strewn streets of Sinjar, Iraq. Riding shotgun next to him is Eric Detweiler, also 22, from Colon, Michigan.

But they aren't soldiers, or private military contractors, or even civilians who have come to war-ravaged northern Iraq to take part in the fight against Islamic State, as dozens of others have done. They are devout Christians from a Protestant sect known more for shying away from the world than for going out to war zones — but they aren't in Iraq to proselytize in a largely Muslim land, they say.

They are volunteers — and the reason they are here becomes clear when looking at the truck's bed, where Delvin Zimmerman, a 26-year-old from the same church as Martin in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, clutches a large pane of glass. They have come to help rebuild a town destroyed by war.

More than six months after Sinjar was retaken from Islamic State militants, a small group of North American Mennonite volunteers is the only permanent humanitarian presence in this ghost town at the foot of Mount Sinjar.

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Iraq takes aim at media as security forces struggle to contain strife

AP reports:

The Islamic State group has launched a coordinated assault on a natural gas plant north of Baghdad that killed at least 14 people, while a string of other bomb attacks in or close to the capital killed 15 others, Iraqi officials say.

The attack on the gas plant started at dawn with a suicide car bomber hitting the facility's main gate in the town of Taji, about 20 kilometres north of Baghdad.

Several suicide bombers and militants then broke into the plant and clashed with the security forces, an official said, adding that 27 troops were wounded.

The IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency credited a group of "Caliphate soldiers" for the attack.

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Islamic State Shifts Tactics, From War-Fighting to Suicide Bombing

Maria Abi-Habib writes for The Wall Street Journal:

As Islamic State loses territory in the grinding war in the Middle East, it is turning to less elaborate but lethal direct attacks on civilian targets such as this past week's series of deadly suicide bombings in Iraq.

In three straight days of bombings in Baghdad starting on Wednesday, the group killed more than 100 people. In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March, Western and regional officials said they are seeing more signs the militants are morphing back into a guerrilla-style insurgency that relies increasingly on suicide attacks.

Iraq's Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan said the latest terror attacks in Iraq stem from Islamic State's need to make an impact away from the battlefield.

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Belgium’s Anti-ISIS Airstrikes Expand From Iraq Into Syria

Alissa J. Rubin writes for The New York Times:

The Belgian government, a member of the American-led coalition that has been bombing Islamic State targets for nearly two years, said Friday that it was expanding Belgium’s airstrikes beyond Iraq into neighboring Syria.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium said the decision to broaden the targets of the six F-16 fighter jets it contributed partly reflected pressure from the coalition.

Mr. Michel’s spokesman, Barend Leyts, said Belgium’s decision also was part of a joint effort with the Netherlands, Belgium’s close ally, to battle the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL. Belgium and the Netherlands take turns in participating in the coalition’s airstrikes.

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Long Road to Recovery for the Victims of Iraq Bombings

Ali Abdul-Hassan writes for AP:

Salam Hussein's father was once his soccer coach. Now he's his physical therapist, hoping that his son will one day be able to walk again.

Hussein was sprayed with shrapnel when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a stadium south of the Iraqi capital where the 23-year-old had been playing for his local club soccer team, Al-Rafidain. Hussein was wounded in the back of his neck, leaving his left arm and leg paralyzed.

While hundreds of Iraqis are killed every month in bombings — 29 died in the March 25 blast in the stadium in Iskandariyah — Hussein's plight underscores the problems faced by the thousands who are left wounded in such attacks, many of them with serious injuries. Iraq's health system is dilapidated, often without facilities for long-term treatment, and there are few services for the disabled, who are often left without freedom of movement and unable to work or attend school.

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Why Shiites are divided over Iranian role in Iraq

Ali Mamouri writes for Al-Monitor:

On the night of April 30, the crowd that stormed the Green Zone gathered in the Great Celebrations Square inside the zone and chanted “Iran Out Out” and “Qasem Soleimani … Sadr is a divine person,” in reference to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. This indicates that feelings and political stances hostile to the policy that Iran has adopted in regard to Iraq since 2003 have been revived among the Shiites.

It is understandable that hatred for Iran prevails within the Iraqi Sunni community, due to sectarian considerations that are influenced by the current sectarian conflict in the region. Hatred for Iran, based on the Arab nationalist considerations hostile to Persian nationalism, which prevailed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, is also understandable.

Yet, what happened in Celebrations Square points to the unique reasons behind the feelings that prevail among the Shiites, which are supposed to be on the side of the Iranians in the current conflict.

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