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

Iraq ‘nets 40 ISIS operatives’ in major swoop

AFP reports :

Iraq's intelligence service said Thursday it detained 40 members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group as part of a major operation in Baghdad and Diyala provinces. "The Iraqi national intelligence service, in coordination with Baghdad and Diyala security forces, carried out an operation which resulted in the arrest of 40 members of varying rank," a statement said.

Diyala is a province just northeast of the capital where ISIS has not had fixed positions in almost a year but has carried out several deadly suicide car bombings.

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Iraq troops close in on Islamic State in Ramadi

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Iraqi troops have pushed deeper into the heart of the last remaining district held by Islamic State in the city of Ramadi, despite being slowed by bombs and booby traps, army spokesmen said on Saturday.

Recapturing Ramadi, which fell to the militants in May, would be one of the most important victories achieved by Iraq's armed forces since Islamic State swept across a third of the country in 2014.


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Critics say US needs ‘failed state’ policy for Syria, Iraq

Jeff Seldin writes for Voice of America:

In about one month, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syrian opposition groups are set to meet for peace talks in Geneva. But already, there is a sense that the talks, advocated by the United States, are doomed to fail. One major problem, according to current and former intelligence and military officials, is that U.S. policy has simply not adjusted to the complex realities on the ground.

“I haven’t seen any indication that the U.S. has a coherent plan for dealing with failed states,” former CIA Director James Woolsey told VOA. “I don’t think the Obama administration has developed one.”

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Iraq: Leading cleric urges release of kidnapped Qatari hunters

Omar al-Jawoshy writes for the New York Times :

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most important Shiite cleric, on Friday called for the immediate release of a group of at least 26 Qatari hunters who were abducted while on a government-approved safari in southern Iraq more than a week ago. Ayatollah Sistani’s statement, released through his representative, Ahmed al-Safi, in the holy city of Karbala, said that “the central government must help to free all the abducted hunters” and called the kidnapping wrong and bound to “harm the country’s reputation.” No group has claimed responsibility for the seizure of the Qataris, who included some members of Qatar’s royal family. The ayatollah, whose proclamations are influential among Iraq’s Shiite majority, spoke a day after Arab League foreign ministers also called for the release of the captives. There has been speculation that Shiite militias in southern Iraq are responsible.

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ISIS threatens to kidnap Iraq’s beauty queen Shayma Qasim

Jack Moore reports for Newsweek:

A supporter of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) threatened to kidnap Miss Iraq, the first to be crowned since 1972, if she did not join the group’s ranks, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Shayma Qasim won the country’s beauty pageant on Saturday but received a phone call afterwards when the threat was issued. She said that, regardless of her fears over the phone call, she was determined to “continue forward despite any obstacles,” the Israeli news website reported, citing the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan. The 20-year-old beauty queen is from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, claimed by the country’s Kurds as their historic capital. After winning the contest, she will represent Iraq in the Miss Universe contest in Thailand in March next year.

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Arab League condemns abduction of Qataris by armed group in Iraq

Rick Gladstone writes for the New York Times:

Arab League foreign ministers on Thursday condemned what they called the “shameful” abduction of at least 26 Qatari hunters one week ago in a remote part of southern Iraq near the Saudi Arabian border. The hunters, who included some senior members of Qatar’s royalty, were seized by unidentified gunmen, and there has been no word on their whereabouts or the demands — if any — made by the kidnappers. In a statement reported by Qatar’s official news agency, the Arab League foreign ministers, meeting in Cairo, expressed “full solidarity” with Qatar’s government in efforts to secure the release of the hunters, who had entered Iraq legally. Their uncertain fate has strained relations between Sunni-dominated Qatar and the Shiite-led government of Iraq, amid speculation that Shiite militia members in southern Iraq may have been responsible. Iraq’s foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, has denied suggestions that his government had anything to do with the abduction. “There are security flaws that we must acknowledge, and our enemies exploited the security shortcomings,” Mr. Jafari said.

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Iraqi forces closing in on ISIS in Ramadi, military official says

Susanna Capelouto and Hamdi Alkhshali report for CNN:

Iraq's military is just about a mile away from the ISIS-held government compound in Ramadi in Iraq's battle to retake the city from the terrorist group, a spokesman for the Joint Iraqi Operations Command said. Col. Mohammed Ibrahim said, "Thousands of improvised explosive devices were planted in the district by Daesh (ISIS). Each one needs at least 30 minutes to be dismantled."

Soldiers are going slowly through liberated neighborhoods of the city looking for ISIS terroists amids the IEDs. "We have to be very patient in order not to lose any soldier or any civilian in the area," Ibrahim said.  With the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi forces are in the second day of a coordinated attack on Ramadi, a city about 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Baghdad and the capital of Anbar province.

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Coalition planes pound ISIS in Iraq’s Ramadi to aid attack, TV says

Reuters reports:

Coalition air forces pounded positions held by Islamic State in Ramadi on Thursday, Iraqi military statements said, in support of government troops seeking to retake the western Iraqi city and push on to drive the militants from key population centers.

Warplanes from the US-led coalition carried out 27 strikes against insurgent position in the last district they hold in the center of the Sunni Muslim city, which lies on the river Euphrates some 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, according to a military statement on state TV.The long-awaited drive to dislodge the militants from Ramadi, the loss of which in May dealt a blow to government efforts to root out Islamic State, started early on Tuesday. Army commanders said on Wednesday the battle would take several days.If captured, Ramadi will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq. Success would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after the militant group seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and U.S ally, in a sweeping advance last year.

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Iraq denies kidnapping Qatari fishermen

The Middle East Monitor reports:

Iraq’s foreign minister insisted on Tuesday that his government has no connection with the kidnapping of Qatari fishermen in the south of the country last week. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari made his comments at a joint press conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah, in Kuwait City. He arrived in Kuwait on Monday for a two-day visit.

“I deny categorically that this issue of the kidnapping has any relation to the Iraqi government,” he said. “Not everything that happens on the ground in Iraq happens with the approval of the government. There are security flaws that we must acknowledge and our enemies exploit the shortcomings."

A large group of unidentified armed men abducted at least 26 Qataris from their desert hunting camp near the Saudi border last week. At least nine people who were part of the hunting group managed to escape and cross into Kuwait.

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Iraq looks to Chinese companies for rail expansion

Asia One reports :

Iraq is eyeing "a huge expansion" of its railway network and Baghdad is contacting leading Chinese companies to carry out the task, visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told China Daily on Wednesday. In an interview on the second day of his first visit to China since taking office in September last year, al-Abadi also voiced confidence over increasing crude oil exports to China, as Iraq is "hoping to double oil exports in the coming years". He stressed the key role of railways in Iraq and plans to expand the network to about 5,000 kilometers from the current 2,000 km.

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