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

Iraq’s marshes, once drained by Saddam, named world heritage site

Reuters reports:

A wetland in southeast Iraq, thought to be the biblical Garden of Eden and almost completely drained during Saddam Hussein's rule, has become a UNESCO world heritage site, Iraqi authorities said on Sunday.

Fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the marshlands of Mesopotamia are spawning grounds for Gulf fisheries and home to bird species such as the sacred ibis. They also provide a resting spot for thousands of wildfowl migrating between Siberia and Africa.

Saddam Hussein, who accused the region's Marsh Arab inhabitants of treachery during the 1980-1988 war with Iran, dammed and drained the marshes in the 1990s to flush out rebels hiding in the reeds.

After his overthrow by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, locals wrecked many of the dams to let water rush back in, and foreign environmental agencies helped breathe life back into the marshes.

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Mapping the road to the liberation of Mosul

Muhannad Al-Ghazi writes for Al-Monitor:

Iraqi forces are advancing toward the city of Mosul from the four corners of the country. Kurdish peshmerga are moving from the north and east, while government-controlled forces are heading toward the city from the south and west.

In recent developments in the Iraqi arena, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced July 9 the liberation of the Qayyarah air base 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of Mosul. But the pertinent question is: How will the Iraqi forces reach Mosul from different directions?

The Joint Military Command had declared March 24 the launch of the first offensive on three axes according to statements by operations command spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yehya Rasul.

“The Iraqi forces have seized control of a number of villages near the Makhmur district to the east of Mosul,” 50 kilometers south of Mosul, Rasul said.

The military forces began advancing from the Makhmur air base toward the towns stretching along the Tigris River, about 16 kilometers west of Makhmur.

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UN: Iraq Can Defeat IS but Must Work on What Happens After

Michael Astor writes for AP:

Recent victories in Fallujah and Qayyarah show that the Iraqis are capable of defeating the Islamic State group but the country must consolidate control of armed groups and promote political reconciliation in order to achieve lasting peace and stability, a United Nations official said Friday.

Jan Kubis, the U.N.'s envoy for Iraq, told the Security Council that recent progress against IS puts the liberation of Mosul high on the agenda and that means local officials must accelerate planning for what happens "the day after."

"With the progress in fighting Daesh, reforming Iraqi security institutions and ensuring the state has full control of all armed groups becomes a priority," he said.

Kubis added that despite the IS defeat in Fallujah, the group remains capable of carrying out devastating attacks throughout Iraq and is increasingly resorting to brutal insurgency tactics to compensate for the loss of territory.

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UN: Mosul Liberation Could Trigger Major Humanitarian Crisis

Margaret Besheer writes for Voice of America:

The U.N.’s top diplomat in Iraq is warning that the expected military operation to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State fighters could become the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

“OCHA [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] estimates that the Mosul operation will be the largest and most sensitive humanitarian crisis in the world in 2016,” Iraq envoy Jan Kubis told the U.N. Security Council in a briefing on Friday. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city.

He said a U.N. aid appeal for $861 million stands at less than 40 percent funded, and a reallocation of existing resources is urgently required, not just to meet current emergency needs, but for those anticipated for the Mosul liberation campaign.

“The [Mosul] humanitarian effort could cost as much as $1 billion,” Kubis warned.

Iraq is already classified as a Level 3 emergency — the highest crisis category. Currently, the U.N. estimates more than 10 million Iraqis require some form of humanitarian assistance — including the 3.4 million people who have been displaced since the rise of the self-styled Islamic State began in 2014.

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Why some Iraqi Shiites are pushing for distance from Iran

Ali Mamouri writes for Al-Monitor:

Iraq’s Shiites are witnessing a political-religious rift in their stance toward Iran whose development can be traced back to 2003. While some express complete loyalty to the Shiite political regime in Tehran, others object to its regional policies, including toward Iraq, and distance from it.

In one example, the predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) held a military parade July 1 in Basra. They destroyed US and Israeli flags and burned photos of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. The march sparked criticism and anger among some Shiites, because the United States has friendly relations with Iraq and is supporting its security forces in their war against the Islamic State (IS). Also, given the state competition in the region, hostility toward Saudi Arabia is not in Iraq’s interest.

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Sadr supporters return to Baghdad streets despite government pleas

Reuters reports:

Thousands of supporters of powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr filled a central Baghdad square on Friday, disregarding government pleas to scrap protests it said would distract from the war against Islamic State.

The demonstration ended a respite from street actions which in April and May saw protesters storm Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone government district twice, hampering parliament for weeks and causing several deaths.

Sadr's followers have returned with familiar demands to fight corruption and overhaul a governing system based on ethnic, sectarian and party quotas.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has failed to implement a cabinet reshuffle he promised months ago as part of reforms.

The protests have at times boosted Abadi in his bid to replace ministers chosen on the basis of political affiliation with independent technocrats, but he has said more recently they risk undermining the military's push to kick Islamic State out of its northern Mosul stronghold.

Activity in much of Baghdad crawled to a halt overnight as security forces deployed ahead of the demonstration, following a military parade in central Baghdad marking a national holiday.

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ISIS says senior commander “Omar the Chechen” was killed in Iraq

AP reports:

An Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-run media outlet says Omar al-Shishani, one of the group's top military commanders, has been killed in fighting near the Iraqi city of Mosul.

U.S. and Iraqi officials, as well as Syrian activists, said in March that al-Shishani, who was in his 30s and known as "Omar the Chechen," had died of wounds sustained in a U.S. airstrike in Syria.

But the ISIS-run Aamaq news agency reported Wednesday that al-Shishani was "martyred" in the town of al-Shirqat, near Mosul, while helping to "halt the military campaign" against the ISIS-held city. ISIS supporters published eulogies to al-Shishani on social media and messaging networks.

Aamaq had denied that al-Shishani was killed in March, without providing evidence that he was alive.

It was not immediately possible to reconcile the conflicting reports.

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Iraqi forces link up south of Mosul, tightening noose around Islamic State

Reuters reports:

Iraqi government forces advancing on the ISIS-held city of Mosul retook a village from the militants on Tuesday and linked up along the Tigris river with army units pushing from a separate direction, Defence Minister Khalid al-Obeidi said.

The territorial gain, which followed the recapture of a key air base nearby at the weekend, further isolated Mosul in preparation for a government assault to recover Iraq's second largest city 60 km to the north.

"Forces from the 9th Armored Division and the counter-terrorism service liberated Ajhala village north of Qayara base," Obeidi said on Twitter.

"Our heroes arrived at the riverbank and made contact with Nineveh Liberation Operation units," he added, referring to troops who had set out from Makhmour, 25 km east of the Tigris, in March.

The newly retaken territory still needs to be secured since ISIS insurgents remain holed up in several towns behind the government's front line, a military spokesman said.

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ISIS suicide bomber kills four at Iraq checkpoint

AFP reports:

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at a checkpoint near Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least four people, officials said, an attack claimed by ISIS.

The bombing at a checkpoint leading to the Husseiniyah area, northeast of the capital, also wounded 21 people, the officials said.

ISIS issued a statement saying an Iraqi carried out a suicide bombing targeting a checkpoint, but gave the location of the attack as Shaab, an area adjoining Husseiniyah.

The blast is the latest in a series of deadly attacks in and around Baghdad, including a bombing in a crowded shopping district on July 3 that killed 292 people, one of the deadliest ever to hit Iraq.

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Iraqi Refugees See No Way Home

Heather Murdock writes for Voice of America:

“They can’t turn me down,” says 21-year-old Safaa, an Iraqi asylum seeker, after inquiring with German officials again about his next interview.  “Most of my city has been destroyed.”

“I’m not worried,” he adds, smiling.

His friend, 27-year-old Ahmed, is also from Salah al-Din, an Iraqi province beset with both Islamic State militants and sectarian strife.  While Safaa looks confident Germany will accept his application, his friend leans in quietly behind him and says to me in English:  “Oh, he is worried. He’s worried.”

Seven months have passed since these men arrived in Germany, and they are no closer to knowing if or when they will be granted asylum - that is,  legal refugee status.  At a plaza outside the central train station in Dresden, they say Iraqi and U.S. escalation of the assault on IS won’t change their plans, whatever the outcome.

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