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

Has ISIS peaked? Terror group suffers setbacks in Iraq

Tim Listner reports for CNN:

Is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria finally beginning to feel the pressure?  The first signs are emerging that a combination of coalition airstrikes and more assertive Iraqi and Kurdish forces are forcing ISIS to change its behavior and inflicting serious losses of both territory and fighters. Analysts tell CNN it is too early to say ISIS has "peaked." It controls vast areas of northern and western Iraq, as well as much of northeastern Syria, and exercises draconian authority in areas as far apart as Anbar in western Iraq and Aleppo province in northern Syria. ISIS also continues to pick up endorsements and pledges of allegiance from other jihadist groups, most notably in Libya and Egypt.

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Gen. Martin Dempsey visits Iraq amid campaign targeting ISIS

NBC news reports:

America's highest-ranking general arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit Saturday to meet U.S. commanders preparing to expand assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling ISIS militants. It was General Martin Dempsey's first trip to Iraq since President Barack Obama ordered non-combatant American forces back into the country this summer, less than three years after withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. The United States began carrying out airstrikes in August.

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Iraqi army crippled by flaws

Shukur Khilkhal writes for Al Monitor:

The Iraqi army's defeat by Islamic State (IS) fighters in Mosul in June came as a surprise. Although the Iraqi military is superior in terms of numbers of soldiers and arms, its fighters quickly deserted their posts. The army is still unable to undertake serious operations to retake control of the cities that have fallen under IS control despite ongoing US-led air cover. The reality of the Iraqi army since its inception is that it has never won a battle against another armed force. In fact, it has exhibited power only when cracking down on popular protests.

The Iraqi army has suffered over the years from two major flaws: it was not designed to defend the country, but rather the governing authorities, and it has always been plagued by sectarianism. The concept upon which the Iraqi army was created by the British, whose forces entered Iraq in 1921, was strongly influenced by its timing. During that period, the British were having to confront persistent protests by Iraqis. After the eruption of the 1920 revolt, British forces proposed establishing an army to deal with such rebellions. Three years later, in 1924, the newly established Iraqi army headed north to Sulaimaniyah to suppress the Kurdish movement.


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Grade inflation hits Iraqi high schools

Wassim Bassem writes for Al Monitor:

Around 79,000 Iraqi students are getting ready to start vocational training (two-year programs leading to an associate degree) or university (four-year programs leading to a bachelor's degree), according to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announcing the university admissions exam results for the academic year 2013-14. Many students taking their final high school exams received grades ranging from 95 to 100, which could well be the largest group of students in the world attaining such high grades.

This increase in grades, however, hinders many students’ dreams of studying medicine — for which top grades are required to be selected — at a time when Iraqi families are struggling financially to pay for, especially, their son's degree in medicine at any price, even if this requires sending him to study abroad. The number of Iraqi students studying abroad has thus increased and already reached around 14,000 in 2013.


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A handy checklist for the U.S. effort in Iraq

David Ignatius writes for the Washington Post:

As the United States advances into its third war in Iraq in a quarter-century, it’s important to have a mental checklist to assess whether U.S. strategy there can succeed. Right now, because of Iraq’s continuing corruption and sectarianism, it’s hard to be optimistic. President Obama’s basic strategic framework seems right, in theory. Obama reiterated Monday in Beijing: “It’s not our folks who are going to be doing the fighting. Iraqis ultimately have to fight [the Islamic State] and they have to determine their own security.”

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U.S., allies conduct 23 air strikes in Syria, Iraq: military

Reuters reports:

U.S.-led forces conducted 16 air strikes in Syria, most of them around Kobani near the Turkish border, and seven in the oil-producing northern region of Iraq since Monday, the U.S. Central Command said. Ten air strikes conducted by the United States and its allies near Kobani hit eight small Islamic State units, damaged three fighting positions and destroyed a logistics facility, Centcom said Wednesday in a statement.

The town has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to halt the advance of the hardline insurgents. It is one of the few areas in Syria where it can co-ordinate air strikes with operations by an effective ground force. Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga have helped take some villages around Kobani but the lines of control in the town remain the same.


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The fighters of Iraq who answer to Iran

Babak Dehghanpisheh reports for Reuters :

Among the thousands of militia fighters who flocked to northern Iraq to battle militant group Islamic State over the summer was Qais al-Khazali.Like the fighters, Khazali wore green camouflage. But he also sported a shoulder-strapped pistol and sunglasses and was flanked by armed bodyguards. When he was not on the battlefield, the 40-year-old Iraqi donned the robes and white turban of a cleric. Khazali is the head of a militia called Asaib Ahl al-Haq that is backed by Iran. Thanks to his position he is one of the most feared and respected militia leaders in Iraq, and one of Iran's most important representatives in the country.

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Islamic State crisis: Austrailian special forces get Iraq clearance

BBC reports :

Australian special forces are finally moving into Iraq more than a month after arriving in the Middle East. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the 200 troops would be helping Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS). A prolonged legal and administrative process in Iraq meant the troops had been waiting for clearance in the United Arab Emirates since September. Fighter jets from the Royal Australian Air Force joined the US-led coalition bombing IS targets in Iraq in October. IS militants currently control large swathes of both Iraq and Syria, having launched a major offensive in the region in June. Mr Abbott made the announcement about the special forces after talks with US President Barack Obama during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Beijing. He said the troops would initially deploy to Baghdad before moving into the field.

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Iraq claims key victory over IS

AP reports:

Iraqi soldiers battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recaptured the heart and outlying districts of the town of Beiji, home to the country's largest oil refinery, state television and a provincial governor said Tuesday. Retaking Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, could allow Iraqi forces a base to attack neighboring Tikrit, taken by the extremists in their lightning advance this summer. But troops backed by Shiite militias faced pockets of stiff resistence around Beiji, hindering their advance.

State television quoted the top army commander in Beiji, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, as saying troops recaptured the city's local government and police headquarters at the center of the town. It aired what appeared to be archival footage of the town showing Iraqi army troops firing their weapons from behind sand barriers. Al-Saadi later spoke to state television by telephone but the line appeared to be cut off after he said his forces were meeting stiff resistance.

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U.S.-led air war in Syria, Iraq faces constraints

Eric Schmitt writes for the New York Times:

More than three months into the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria, commanders are challenged by spotty intelligence, poor weather and an Iraqi army that is only now starting to go on the offensive against the Islamic State, meaning that warplanes are mostly limited to hitting pop-up targets of opportunity.
Weekend airstrikes hit just such targets: a convoy of 10 armed trucks of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, near Mosul, as well as vehicles and two of the group’s checkpoints near the border with Syria. News reports from Iraq said the Islamic State’s leader had been wounded in one of the raids, but U.S. officials said Sunday that they were still assessing his status. In Iraq, the air war is tethered to the slow pace of operations by the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces. With relatively few Iraqi offensives to flush out militants, many Islamic State fighters have dug in to shield themselves from attack.

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