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

The Women Who Escaped ISIS

Letta Tayler writes for Human Rights Watch:

Dressed in fitted slacks, a satin bomber jacket with a fake fur collar, and a black scarf that loosely framed her face, Nadia, 22, spoke in a dull monotone of her journey from life under the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) to life in a Kurdish prison. She said she had not seen her three-year-old daughter since she fled her abusive husband, a fugitive ISIS member, in March.

A Sunni Arab from the Salahuddin Governorate in central Iraq, Nadia—whose name has been changed to protect her identity—was married off to a local farmer in 2012. Although their marriage was arranged, they got along at first, she told me from the visiting room of an Erbil prison. But everything changed for the worse when ISIS took over their village for two months in 2014.

What happened next underscores the serious challenges the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) faces as it seeks to identify security threats among the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis streaming across its borders from ISIS-held territory and to prosecute those who were part of the extremist group. During this difficult process, there is a risk that the KRG may be arbitrarily branding many women and even children who lived under ISIS as guilty by association—including those who had not welcomed the extremist group or were abused during its harsh rule.

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In Mosul, A Heavy But Not Crushing Blow To Is Group

Susannah George reports for AP:

Iraqi troops have surrounded western Mosul and military leaders vow it's only a matter of time until they crush the last major stand of the Islamic State group in Iraq. But the militants are positioning themselves to defend the remains of their so-called "caliphate" in Syria and wage an insurgent campaign in Iraq.

The extremists are carrying out what looks like an organized, fighting withdrawal: a core of fighters is holding out in the city using hundreds of thousands of civilians as shields, tying down and bleeding the Iraqi military in urban combat.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and Iraqi officials say the senior IS leadership has escaped to regroup in Syria and the deserts along the border to prepare for the future.

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IS Mosul commander killed, government forces battle for bridge

Patrick Markey and Abdelaziz Boumzar report for Reuters:

Iraqi government forces killed the Islamic State commander of Mosul's Old City on Tuesday as the battle for the militants' last stronghold in Iraq focused on a bridge crossing the Tigris river.

As fighting intensified on Tuesday after the previous day's heavy rains, civilians streamed out of western neighborhoods recaptured by the government, cold and hungry but relieved to be free of the militants' grip.

IS snipers were slowing the advance of Interior Ministry Rapid Response units on the Iron Bridge linking western and eastern Mosul but the elite forces were still inching forward, officers said.

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Mosul’s merchants keep trading as battle against Isis rages

Erika Solomon writes for Financial Times:

As soon as Iraqi forces recaptured the eastern outskirts of Mosul from Isis last year, traders in the nearby Kurdistan region received a flood of phone calls — shopkeepers, desperate for supplies, knew exactly where their next economic lifeline would be.

“Before this Isis mess, I’d never done business with those people [in Mosul]. But as soon as the Iraqi army opened the road and gave traders here a chance, they were all going,” says Lazkin Mohammed, a shopkeeper in Kalak. “We were suddenly doing business with Mosul.”

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East Mosul may be free from Islamic State control, but it’s far from secure

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for LA Times:

To show how much this embattled city’s east side has recovered since it was freed from Islamic State two months ago, the police chief set out on a tour last week — with two dozen armed guards, one toting a rocket-propelled grenade.

As Iraqi forces fought street by street for control of Mosul’s west side, authorities on the east side advanced to the next stage of battle: securing and holding areas recaptured from Islamic State.

A steady stream of shoppers stopped to greet the chief as he passed. A young man approached, offering a handful of identification cards he had found: They belonged to Yazidi women, who are an ethnic minority and were probably Islamic State captives. The police accepted the cards and promised to investigate.

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Hundreds Detained in Degrading Conditions

Human Rights Watch reports:

The Iraqi interior ministry is holding at least 1,269 detainees, including boys as young as 13, without charge in horrendous conditions and with limited access to medical care at three makeshift prisons, Human Rights Watch said today. At least four prisoners have died, in cases that appear to be linked to lack of proper medical care and poor conditions and two prisoners’ legs have been amputated, apparently because of lack of treatment for treatable wounds.

Two detention centers are in the town of Qayyarah, 60 kilometers south of Mosul, and the third at a local police station in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul. At least one detainee has been held in Qayyarah for six months, with many others detained since November 2016. According to the Qayyarah prison staff, at least 80 of their detainees are children under 18, with the youngest being 13. Children are in Hammam al-Alil as well.

“The deplorable prison conditions in Qayyarah and Hammam al-Alil show that the Iraqi government is not providing the most basic detention standards or due process,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iraqis should understand better than most the dangerous consequences of abusing detainees in cruel prison conditions.”

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Iraq forces face tough resistance in advance on Mosul’s Old City

John Davison writes for Reuters:

Iraqi forces battling Islamic State faced tough resistance from snipers and mortar rounds on Monday as they tried to advance on Mosul's Old City and a bridge across the Tigris river in their campaign to retake the western part of the city.

Progress by Rapid Response units was slowed by heavy rain on Monday morning, but they were only 100 meters (yards) from the Iron Bridge which connects the Old City with the eastern side of Mosul, military officials said.

Since starting the campaign in October, Iraqi forces with U.S.-led coalition support have recaptured eastern Mosul and around 30 percent of the west from militants who are outnumbered but fiercely defending their last stronghold in Iraq.

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Iraqis Capture IS Women’s Prison, Free Detainees

Rikar Hussein and Dakhil Shammo write for Voice of America:

Advancing Iraqi forces in western Mosul have captured a textile factory that Islamic State (IS) used to as a jail to hold women, officials inside the city told VOA.

“The Islamic State imprisoned nearly 300 women in the building,” Gayath Surchi, the speaker of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party in Mosul told VOA.

The textile factory is located between al-Mansour and Wadi al-Hajar neighborhoods in western Mosul and came under the Iraqi control Sunday night, according to Surchi.

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Iraqi Kurdistan: intrepid skiers break new ground

Will Coldwell writes for The Guardian:

‘For those who want to just ski a nice piste, have a beer, then go to a disco, it’s probably not so appealing.” James Willcox, co-founder of adventure travel company Untamed Borders, is talking about who might – and would definitely not – be interested in its latest offering: a ski tour of Iraq.

In January, Untamed Borders ran what was “probably the first ever commercial ski trip” to the country, taking a group of six intrepid travellers to the region around Mount Halgurd in the north-east of Iraq, three hours’ drive from Mosul and 500km north of Baghdad. Flying in to the city of Ebril (via Istanbul) they spent two weeks ski-touring this part of Iraqi Kurdistan, through landscapes rarely seen by western travellers.

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Can Iraq Survive Trump?

Susan B. Glasser writes for Politico:

What does the end of American leadership in the Middle East look like?

There’s no better place to find out these days than Iraqi Kurdistan, which is, by any measure, one of the most pro-American places in the world.

Kurdistan wouldn’t exist in anything like its current form if not for the intervention of successive American presidents going back to George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who insisted on protecting the enclave from Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush may be disdained as an occupier elsewhere in Iraq, but he is remembered here as a “liberator” and a “hero” for toppling Hussein, as nearly everyone with whom I spoke here reminds me. And just a couple hours away, in the raging battle to retake the strategic city of Mosul from the terrors of the Islamic State, the fight wouldn’t be possible without assistance from hundreds of American advisers on the ground and pilots in the air.

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