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

Battle to retake Iraqi city looms as test of Obama’s ISIS strategy

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times:

American intelligence agencies and the Pentagon are struggling to determine how difficult it will be to retake Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq, as planning intensifies for a battle that is becoming a major test of the Obama administration’s strategy to stop the spread of the terrorist group in the Middle East.

The assessment will be pivotal in driving important policy and military decisions that President Obama will need to make in the coming weeks, including whether the Pentagon will need to deploy teams of American ground forces to call in allied airstrikes and advise Iraqi troops on the battlefield on the challenges of urban warfare.

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US Marines on the ground in Iraq as ISIS burns 45 alive

Riyadh Mohammed reports for the Fiscal Times:

Iraqi local officials in Iraq’s town of al-Baghdadi have warned of another ISIS mass burning massacre. The terror organization surrounded a compound several days ago that houses more than 1000 families and burned 45 people alive. “ISIS has killed more than 150 people from al-Obaid tribe...some of them were burned alive and some were beheaded...they were policemen...some of them fought against ISIS before,” said sheikh Mal Allah al-Obaidi, the head of the local council in the al-Baghdadi.

An Iraqi air base is located next to al-Baghdadi. More than 300 US military service members are providing training, and coordinating US air raids there. As the US military official at the central command announced that the US will train 12 Iraqi brigades to start an Iraqi operation to liberate the northern city of Mosul in April or May, reports emerged suggesting US Marines will conduct a limited operation in the border area between Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to strike ISIS jihadists who control the border area.


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Iraq civil war leader rallies Shi’ite fighters against Islamic State

Ned Parker reports for Reuters:

Abu Deraa sits at home in Baghdad's Sadr City, ringed by images of 7th century Shi'ite Muslim Imams Ali and Hussein. A hero to Shi'ite militiamen during Iraq's civil war, he no longer fights but still stirs the hearts of men now battling Islamic State.

Nearly a decade after Iraq's worst sectarian bloodletting, the country faces a new period of darkness: Sunni jihadists have captured swathes of territory in the north and west, and efforts to roll back those gains have exacerbated tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite communities. Abu Deraa, whose nom de guerre means father of the shield, is defiantly proud of his past, which includes brutal raids on Sunni areas whose residents still tremble at his name. He now sees himself as an anchor in a new war against evil forces.

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Obama admin gives cover to Iraq Shiite militia abuses: Ex U.S. official

Mustapha Ajbaili reports for Al Arabiya:

A former U.S. official and special assistant to five American ambassadors in Iraq and senior adviser to three chiefs of U.S. Central Command has accused the Obama administration of providing cover to abuses committed by pro-government Shiite militias in Iraq. In a Foreign Policy article published on Thursday, Ali Khedery describes the Iraqi government as “hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern.”

He argues that through its response to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet.”

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Defense secretary addresses coming battle against ISIS in Iraq

Julianna Goldman reports for CBS:

The new secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, said Saturday the U.S. may slow down the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Carter made the announcement during his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary.

On the flight there, Carter also discussed an impending battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in Iraq - the battle for Mosul. The Mosul offensive is expected to be the U.S.-led campaign's most difficult and strategically important battle yet. The Iraqi city is the largest held by ISIS, with a population of one million, occupied by an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 militant fighters.

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Iraq after the Islamic State: Politics rule

Douglass Ollivant writes for War on the Rocks:

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – known by most people in the Middle East as Daesh – will lose its battle to hold territory in Iraq. It may well take one to two years to reduce their defenses in cities like Mosul, Tikrit, and Fallujah, but the ultimate outcome is no longer in serious doubt. This does not mean there will not be sizeable battles — and perhaps ISIL tactical victories — in the coming months. This does not mean that ISIL will be eliminated as a cell-based terrorist group in Iraq. This does not mean that groups from Afghanistan to Libya may not decide to affiliate themselves with ISIL. And above all, it does not mean that there is a plan to eject ISIL from Syria. But the outcome in Iraq is now clear to most serious analysts.

However, the occupation of about one-third of Iraq’s territory by ISIL has changed the fabric and politics of Iraqi society, perhaps forever. Politics will, as always, remain primary. All three major ethno-sectarian groups in Iraq have been shifted by the ISIL earthquake, but too few are thinking at this macro political level. Instead most analysts tend to focus on the latest micro-level event, but good analysis must look beyond day-to-day headlines and, indeed, beyond the horizon. Changes at Iraq’s macro-level, combined with older trends, provide reason for both pessimism and optimism for the future of Iraq.

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Islamic State could be harvesting organs, Iraq’s U.N. envoy says

AP reports:

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to look into allegations that the Islamic State group is using organ harvesting as a way to finance its operations. Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim told reporters that in the last few weeks, bodies with surgical incisions and missing kidneys or other body parts have been found in shallow mass graves. "We have bodies. Come and examine them," he said. "It is clear they are missing certain parts."

He also said a dozen doctors have been "executed" in Mosul for refusing to participate in organ harvesting. Alhakim briefed the council on the overall situation in Iraq and accused Islamic State of "crimes of genocide" in targeting certain ethnic groups. The outgoing U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nikolay Mladenov, told the council that in January alone, 790 people were killed in acts of terrorism and armed conflict.

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Here is the Army’s declassified Iraq prison file on the leader of ISIS

Hunter Walker reports for Business Insider :

Relatively little is known about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL). However, newly declassified military documents obtained by Business Insider on Wednesday reveal several new details about the ISIS leader. The records come from time Baghdadi spent in US Army custody in Iraq. They were released through a Freedom of Information Act request. In these files, Baghdadi was identified by his birth name, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry.


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A religous minority in Iraq: A secret sect

The Economist reports :

In A village called Shalyar, near the oil city of Kirkuk, an officer tries to explain where his tiny community fits in Iraq’s religious mosaic. Imam Ali, the martyred hero of Shia Islam, adorns his wall. But Major Farhad Nazar is not Shia; nor, unlike most fellow Kurds, is he Sunni. He speaks for the Kakai, a small, secretive group which is monotheistic and reveres Imam Ali but (unlike most Muslims) accepts reincarnation. That mix makes them a big target for Islamic State (IS) which proclaims a violently puritanical Sunni line.

Major Nazar, who was jailed in 1993 as a dissident against the late dictator, Saddam Hussein, laments that “IS has two reasons to kill us, we are Kurdish and Kakai.” But his community, numbering about 75,000, has been toughened by a decade of persecution. At least 218 civilian members have been slain in Iraq’s turmoil since the American invasion of 2003, but none has been killed since IS overran the once-diverse city of Mosul last August. That is partly because the Kakai had already been displaced from traditional homes before last year’s flare-up; and some Kakai villages are in land still held by their Kurdish kin. But they did see three shrines destroyed in last year’s advance.

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Lebanon’s Hezbollah acknowledges battling the Islamic State in Iraq

Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous report for the Washington Post:

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement acknowledged for the first time Monday that the Shiite militia has sent fighters to Iraq, and he urged Arab states throughout the region to set aside sectarian rivalries to confront the threat posed by the Islamic State. In a videotaped speech delivered to followers in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hasan Nasrallah called on the region’s traditional American allies to abandon their reliance on the United States and instead align with Hezbollah — and by implication with its sponsor Iran — to defeat the Sunni extremists.

“He who relies on the Americans relies on an illusion. You rely on someone who is stealing from you and conniving against you,” he said.

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