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

Shiite militias win bloody battles in Iraq, show no mercy

Matt Bradley reports for the Wall Street Journal:

In a makeshift barracks about 40 miles south of Baghdad, Ahmed al-Zamili flipped through pictures on his mobile phone: an Islamic State fighter’s corpse hanging from a crude noose, a dead man on the ground clutching an AK-47 and a kneeling, blindfolded man uttering a confession.

Mr. Zamili says the men were captured when his militia of more than 650 Shiite fighters, known as Al Qara’a Regiment, drove Islamic State out of Jurf al-Sakher in late October. After briefly interrogating the enemy soldiers, Mr. Zamili ordered their executions, he says.

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AP interview: US troops have immunity in Iraq

Vivian Salama reports for AP:

Washington has an agreement with Baghdad on privileges and immunities for the growing number of troops based in Iraq who are helping in the fight against the Islamic State group, the new U.S. ambassador said Thursday. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Stuart Jones said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given assurances that U.S. troops will receive immunity from prosecution. Under Iraq's former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that issue was a major sticking point, ultimately leading to the decision to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops in late 2011.

"That was a different situation and those troops would have had a different role," Jones said. "We have the assurances that we need from the government of Iraq on privileges and immunities," he said. "It's in the basis of our formal written communications between our governments and also based on the strategic framework agreement that is the legal basis of our partnership."

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U.S. walks fine, awkward line when addressing Iranian airstrikes in Iraq

Dan Lamothe reports for the Washington Post:

Iranian fighter jets are now said to be bombing the Islamic State militant group in Iraq. It’s an escalation in Tehran’s presence there — and a development that has forced U.S. officials to walk a fine line while addressing it. The latest example came Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry was asked if he was aware of any Iranian airstrikes in Iraq, and whether he thought they were helpful in the fight against the militants. He declined to confirm whether any occurred and said Tehran and Washington are not coordinating military actions, a standing talking point for U.S. officials in recent days. But the secretary went a step further, saying Iranian airstrikes wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

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ISIS attacks checkpoint at Iraq, Syria border

The New York Daily News reports:

Islamic State militants attacked a checkpoint along the volatile Iraqi-Syria border on Monday, killing at least 15 Iraqi border policemen, officials said. The attack took place in the town of al-Walid on Iraq’s side of the border, according to a senior army official. At least five officers were also wounded in the assault. A government official in Iraq’s Anbar provincial council confirmed the report but further details were not immediately available. Since its blitz earlier this year, the Islamic State group has controlled most of the border crossings between Iraq and Syria. The Sunni militant group has also overrun a large part of Iraq’s Anbar and Ninevah provinces and now controls about one-third of both Iraq and Syria.

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Iraq PM sacks officials over ‘ghost soldiers’

Al Jazeera Reports:

The Iraqi prime minister has fired dozens of top officials after the government uncovered an estimated 50,000 "ghost soldiers" on the military payroll. Haider al-Abadi "retired" on Monday at least 24 senior Interior Ministry officials as part of government restructuring, saying that the scheme has drained millions of dollars from the country's coffers. He said he was saddened that the government was paying out salaries to false names "at a time when we don't have enough money". "We have soldiers fighting and being killed, while there are mock names of soldiers receiving salaries," he lamented. There are 800,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army, and more than half a million of them are reservists, leaving less than 300,000 soldiers on active duty. Each soldier earns about $600 a month, so the 50,000 ghost soldiers, which is equivalent to almost four military divisions, could be costing Iraq at least $380m a year.

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About 250 Fort Bragg soldiers to deploy to support Iraq operations

Michelle Tan writes for the Army Times:

About 250 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division will deploy in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, officials announced Monday. The soldiers from 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will begin deploying in late December. They will deploy for nine months to the Central Command area of responsibility to conduct security operations. "The 1st Battalion, 505th PIR is a well-led and highly trained unit with extremely talented and adaptable paratroopers," said Col. Curtis Buzzard, the brigade commander, in a statement. "I know they are ready for any contingency and am confident they will accomplish the mission."

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Iran bombs Islamic State targets in Iraq, says Pentagon

BBC news reports:

Iran has conducted air strikes against Islamic State (IS) targets in eastern Iraq during recent days, a Pentagon spokesman says. Rear Adm John Kirby said the US, which has conducted its own air strikes in Iraq, was not co-ordinating with Iran. A senior Iranian military official also dismissed talk of co-operation between the two countries. A US-led coalition has launched hundreds of air strikes against IS since August. The US has said it would be inappropriate for Iran to join that coalition, even though the two long-time adversaries face a common enemy in IS. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the US and Iran have had a fraught relationship. Washington severed ties the following year after Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.

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Deaths mount as Iraq strikes target ISIS areas

Al Arabiya reports :

Seventeen people were killed in Iraq on Saturday in air strikes targeting areas controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, witnesses and an intelligence official said. Two brothers who were members of the Albu Hishma tribe were mistakenly killed when an Iraqi military helicopter attacked the house of an ISIS militant in the town of Yathrib, 90 km (56 miles), witnesses said. Fifteen people from the same tribe were then killed in an airstrike as they headed to the funeral of the brothers, said witnesses. Both accounts were confirmed by an intelligence official. It’s not clear who carried out the second strike.

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With shopping, holy sites, Najaf offers respite from Iraq’s violence

Alice Fordham reports for NPR:

The holy Iraqi city of Najaf has a brand-new and appropriately holy shopping center: the Najaf City Mall. Under banners with Muslim prayers, children rampage through an adventure playground, while conservative women in long black robes browse for cute outfits to wear when they're home with family.

Think of Iraq and maybe you picture a desert battlefield: the self-styled Islamic State slugging it out with the Iraqi army while American warplanes drop bombs from the sky. But life there's not like that for everyone, not all the time. In fact, because of famous holy shrines in Iraq, millions of international pilgrims actually visit every year. Mohammed Baderi is one of four main investors in the mall. A chatty man with calluses on his forehead from frequent praying, he sits on a neon plastic chair surrounded by families having dinner, and tells me why he came back from 24 years in the U.S. to open a mall.

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The world’s scariest highway: truckers brave ISIS fighters and air strikes

William Booth and Taylor Luck write for the National Post:

It might be the most hairy truck route in the world — a nail-biting, long-haul, “Mad Max”-style endurance race from the Jordan border through the heart of Islamic State territory. Some days only dozens — some days hundreds — of truckers hungry for big paydays make the vital run to deliver everything from apples to antibiotics to Iraqi civilians, many of them living under siege in territory controlled by the radical Islamist group.

The truckers’ journey provides a window into a dangerous region that has become even more terrifying. Since the militants took over northern and western Iraq this year, the route has become, the wheelmen say, the highway through hell. On the run to Baghdad, drivers face miles of empty, lawless road, prowled by brigands and militias, punctuated by rolling roadblocks operated by Islamic State militants in pickup trucks and purloined Hummers. The route to Mosul is worse, drivers say, following oil pipelines, narrow macadam roads and military tracks along the overrun Syrian border, with nobody left but Islamic State warriors and smuggling crews.

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