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

John Kerry: ISIS is committing genocide in Syria and Iraq

Amanda Holpuch, Harriet Sherwood, and Owen Bowcott write for The Guardian:

The US has declared that Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities, amid mounting global pressure to recognise atrocities committed in Iraq and Syria as a deliberate drive to wipe out certain religious groups.

US secretary of state John Kerry said that Isis, known in Arabic by its acronym Daesh, was “genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions, in what it says, in what believes and in what it does”.

He said: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”

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The fight to take Mosul back from ISIS

Jack Moore writes for Newsweek:

The U.S.-led coalition’s effort to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has begun, according to the top U.S. envoy in the fight against the extremists.

“It’s already started,” Brett McGurk said on Wednesday at a speech at the American University of Iraq in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimani. “It’s a slow, steady squeeze.”

The coalition is conducting almost daily air strikes against ISIS personnel and infrastructure in the city. Iraqi forces are stationed just kilometers from the militants’ stronghold and the Kurdish Peshmerga have recaptured territory from the group north of the city.

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Border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdish region closed

Reuters reports:

The border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria was closed on Wednesday, a Syrian Kurdish official told Reuters.

The border between al-Malikiya in Syria's Hassakeh province and Fishkhabur in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region closed in the afternoon, said Abdullah Sa'adoun, communications officer for the Syrian Kurdish internal security forces, known as the Asayish.

Sa'adoun did not give a reason for the closure, but said it was closed by the Iraqi side.

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EXCLUSIVE: Interview with the American-born ISIS fighter

Kurdistan 24 reports:

In an exclusive interview with Kurdistan24 on Tuesday, Mohamad Jamal Khweis, an American-Palestinian Islamic State (IS) fighter revealed his story of joining the extremist group.

Khweis is a 26-year-old US citizen from the State of Virginia, where he completed high school and received a degree in Criminal Justice from a college. On Monday, he surrendered himself to Kurdish Peshmerga forces near the city of Sinjar (Shingal) in northern Iraq. Khweis' parents moved from the Palestinian Territories to the United States about “27-28 years ago.”

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UN ‘very worried’ about thousands fleeing Iraq offensive

AFP reports:

The United Nations said Thursday it was concerned that many of the 35,000 people recently displaced by fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province were still very close to the front lines.

Thousands of civilians have been fleeing Hit, 145 kilometers (90 miles) west of Baghdad, as security forces close in on fighters from ISIS hunkered down in the city.

“The UN doesn’t have full access and we are very worried that some of the families who are escaping are in areas very close to the front lines,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement.

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Military intel identifies ‘thickest’ ISIS stronghold in Iraq

Barbara Starr writes for CNN:

U.S. military intelligence has identified the corridor between Mosul and Tal Afar as the "thickest, strongest, stronghold" of ISIS in Iraq.

"That zone is where the enemy is thickest," Col. Steve Warren, chief spokesman for the coalition, told reporters Wednesday.

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ISIS Loses Almost 1/4 of Territory in Iraq and Syria in 15 Months, IHS Data Shows

Alexander Smith writes for NBC News:

ISIS has lost nearly a quarter of its territory over the past 15 months, according to a new data from a leading research company — the latest sign that the militants' once rapid advance has slowed.

Data published by IHS on Wednesday showed that since January 2015 the militant group has lost 22 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria — and 8 percent of the losses were in the past three months.

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Iraq says plane went down in Kirkuk

Hamdi Alkhshali and Ralph Ellis report for CNN:

An Iraqi military aircraft was downed in northeastern Kirkuk and all crew members were killed, Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement Wednesday.

ISIS issued its own statement saying it shot down an Iraqi military plane with a 57mm artillery gun in Huwaija, in southeastern Kirkuk province.

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Iraq’s only ballet and music school faces funding crisis

Susannah George writes for AP:

Iraq's only music and ballet school has survived decades of war, sanctions and dictatorship, but now faces a funding crisis due to low oil prices and the costly war against the Islamic State group.

On a recent day boys and girls in leotards warmed up on a practice bar before a mirror-lined wall, while an orchestra worked its way up scales in the next room, with students tuning cellos and plucking notes on Middle Eastern string instruments known as ouds.

The teachers are still receiving salaries, but funds for instruments and equipment are drying up, leading to the cancellation of performances and raising concerns that the school — which has always recruited based on talent alone — may one day only serve the wealthy or close altogether.

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Using International Financial Aid to Improve Baghdad-KRG Relations

Michael Knights writes for The Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

The Kurdistan Regional Government is making a concerted effort to attract financial aid from the United States and other international players, and the logic for providing such aid is strong. The KRG is the vital launchpad for liberating Mosul, and the Kurds are a pro-Western ally of enduring strategic value. Slowly but surely, they are implementing economic reforms and upping their involvement in the war against the Islamic State.

Yet while the United States and its coalition partners are (rightly) beginning to send emergency financial assistance to the near-bankrupt KRG, such cash infusions -- likely totaling less than half a billion dollars in 2016 -- will only postpone Kurdistan's economic collapse by perhaps a year. Washington's aim should not be to keep the KRG afloat until Mosul is liberated; it should be to provide a much larger infusion of financial assistance that continues to help the Kurds well afterward. The International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions are the key to this approach. Involving them in the assistance effort could not only save Kurdistan, but also foster sustainable political and economic relations between the KRG and the Iraqi federal government.

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