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

Liberals to reveal new Iraq, Syria military mission in coming days, minister says

CBC News reports:

The Liberal government will reveal the details of its military mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in a "couple of days," according to the minister of international development. "We will be announcing our full commitment to the Middle East with Prime Minister Trudeau, the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of national defence in a couple of days," Marie-Claude Bibeau told reporters on a conference call from London.

Bibeau is among 70 delegates in the British capitol for a one-day conference that's seen about $10 billion committed over several years. The Quebec MP did not announce any new funding for Syria at the meeting, insisting her government would announce additional aid with other measures in a "holistic approach," that would include military, diplomatic and humanitarian contributions to defeat ISIS and help Syrians fleeing violence in the region.

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Hundreds more US troops in Iraq than previously stated: Pentagon

AFP reports :

Hundreds more American troops are in Iraq than the Pentagon previously stated, an official said Wednesday in an acknowledgement underscoring the sensitivity of US deployments to the war-torn nation. Officially, the Pentagon long said about 3,500 American troops are stationed in Iraq to train and equip local security forces, primarily so they can fight back against Islamic State jihadists who control large parts of the country.

 But the Pentagon has now increased that number to 3,870 troops, according to spokesman Captain Jeff Davis. Baghdad-based military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren went further, saying it was "fair to say" there are hundreds more troops than even that tally. The troop presence is tiny compared to the height of the Iraq War, when the United States had nearly 160,000 in-country troops during the "surge."

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ISIL shelling kills more Iraqi soldiers in Ramadi

Al Jazeera reports:

Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued their counter-assault against Iraqi forces in Ramadi, killing at least 13 soldiers in fresh shelling on Wednesday. Weeks after the Iraqi government declared Anbar's provincial capital had been recaptured from ISIL, the armed group attacked Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) positions in the north and east of the city.

In the eastern suburb of Shujirayah, where ISF troops have attempted to clear about 300 ISIL fighters, at least nine soldiers from the army's 8th Division were killed by shelling, military sources told Al Jazeera.

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The Iraqi Kurdish people smuggler who’s become a celebrity

Alaa Latif writes for Niqash:

Over the past summer a figure has emerged in Iraqi Kurdistan who locals say they trust more than they trust their politicians or other officials. His name is Riza Kewi and he is a people smuggler who helps those trying to immigrate to Europe as refugees; he boasts that he has helped over 8,000 people get to Europe and last summer he was commonly quoted saying things like this: "There is nothing for you in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Leave the country for the officials and come with me.  I will make sure you reach Europe".

As a result Kewi has become something of a celebrity among the Iraqi Kurdish. There are many videos posted on social media, things like: a new message from Riza Kewi, listen to what Riza Kewi is telling the young people, watch Riza Kewi in action - and so forth and so on. The videos and messages are widely shared and have seen young Iraqis try to find Kewi the moment they get to Turkey.

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Diyala attacks follow old Zarqawi terror strategy

Mustafa al-Kadhimi writes for Al Monitor:

The Islamic State is reviving an old ploy designed to recruit Sunnis by fomenting sectarian hatred. The January suicide bombings in Diyala province, which exemplify the strategy, heightened the fever between Shiites and Sunnis, especially as each side accuses the other of perpetrating the attacks. Some Sunni parties accuse the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units of attacking and burning down mosques, while Shiites point the finger at Sunnis, accusing them of supporting and protecting IS fighters.

But IS — which has portrayed itself as a protector of Sunni Arabs in Iraq and warned of a catastrophic fate for the Sunnis under what it considers Shiite rule — is the biggest beneficiary of these events. It appears IS specifically is encouraging flare-ups in areas recently freed from its grip such as Abu Sayda, Baquba and Muqdadiyah.

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Arabs, Kurds retake northern Iraq village from Islamic State

Reuters reports:

Sunni Muslim Arab fighters backed by Kurdish forces and U.S.-led air strikes retook a village in northern Iraq on Wednesday in an example of effective military cooperation on the ground between them against Islamic State insurgents.

The offensive in the Makhmour district south of Erbil began early on Wednesday, resulting in the recapture of Kudila - part of a series of planned operations to clear Islamic State from the area, Kurdish and Arab commanders said. Kurdish forces have driven the ultra-hardline Sunni militants back in northern Iraq, but have been reluctant to push further into predominantly Arab territory for fear of being seen as an occupying force by inhabitants and provoking a backlash.

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Iraq Kurd leader: ‘Time has come’ for statehood referendum

W.G. Dunlop reports for AFP:

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani has declared that the "time has come" for the country's Kurds to hold a referendum on statehood, a move likely to raise tensions with Baghdad. But even if the various political challenges to independence are resolved, the major economic problems the region faces due to low oil prices are another bar to Kurdish independence.

"The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future," Barzani said in a statement released Wednesday. "This referendum would not necessarily lead to (an) immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of the people of Kurdistan about their future," said Barzani, who has remained in power despite the expiration of his term as president.

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Iraq’s conspicuous silence on Washington’s offer of more U.S. troops

Andrew Tilghman writes for the Military Times:

The United States is willing to send more troops to Iraq — but do the Iraqis really want them? Iraqi officials refuse to touch that question. A spokesman for Iraq’s embassy in Washington told Military Times that neither the ambassador nor his staff could provide “informed responses” to questions seeking clarity on Baghdad’s willingness to host more U.S. troops. “I can try to request clarification from Baghdad,” said Ali Al-Mawlawi, the spokesman, “but I can’t guarantee that we’d get an on-the-record response.”

Al-Mawlawi did not respond to subsequent inquires. The embassy's uncertainty highlights a fundamental shift in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship. When the Islamic State group began to sweep across Iraq in 2014, the government in Baghdad very publicly urged the U.S. to provide air

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Iraq to build wall and trench around Baghdad

Jim Michaels writes for USA Today:

Iraq said Tuesday it is building a wall and trench around Baghdad in an effort to secure the city from terror attacks. The Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, said work began this week on a 65-mile stretch of the wall and trench around the capital, the Associated Press reported. The wall will be 10-feet high and partially made up of concrete barriers, he said.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, has seized large swaths of Iraq and neighboring Syria, but the terror group has not seized any territory in Baghdad. The group, however, has launched attacks inside the city using car or truck bombs. The large defensive wall and trench will allow Iraqi authorities to dismantle many of the police checkpoints throughout the city, and free up security forces for use elsewhere in the battle against the Islamic State, the AP said.

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Iraq: besieged Fallujah residents running out of food and medicine

Al Bawaba News reports:

A senior Iraqi official has urged the US-led coalition to airdrop packs of food and medicine to aid tens of thousands of civilians trapped in Fallujah, a Daesh stronghold under siege by security forces. The population of Fallujah is suffering from a shortage of food, medicine and fuel, according to residents reached by phone, and sources on the ground reported numerous people had died from starvation and lack of medical care. Reports are difficult to verify due to insecurity and poor communications inside the area.

Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of western Anbar province where Fallujah is located, explained that an airdrop was the safest way to deliver humanitarian supplies to residents after Daesh planted mines the entrances to the city and prevented civilians from leaving.

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