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

Iraq launches major anti-ISIS operation north of Baghdad

AFP reports:

Thousands of Iraqi security personnel launched an operation on Tuesday aimed at retaking areas north of Baghdad from the ISIS militant group, officials said.

Counter-terrorism forces, soldiers, police and allied paramilitaries are taking part in the operation, which is backed by artillery and both Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition aircraft, the Joint Operations Command announced.

An Iraqi army colonel said that more than 7,000 security personnel would take part in the operation, which the operations command said aims to retake areas west of the city of Samarra.

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Suicide bombings kill 40 in eastern Iraq, eight west of Baghdad

Reuters reports:

At least 40 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a funeral in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala while a suicide blast at a security checkpoint in Baghdad's western outskirts killed eight members of the security forces, police said on Monday.

The larger attack in Muqdadiya, 80 km (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, killed six local commanders of the Hashid Shaabi umbrella group of Shi'ite militias who were attending the funeral of a commander's relative, security officials and police in Diyala said. A further 58 people were wounded, the sources said.

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Pentagon developing plans for expanded U.S. role against Islamic State in Iraq

Missy Ryan writes for The Washington Post:

The U.S. military is developing proposals for augmenting the American role in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, senior Pentagon officials said on Monday, as plans take shape for a battle to reclaim the city of Mosul.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said he expected the U.S. military to provide expanded assistance to Iraqi forces when they launch a campaign for the northern city, which has been under Islamic State militants for a year and a half. It would be an expansion, he said, of the assistance U.S. forces provided Iraqi troops when the local troops pushed militants out of Ramadi, another Iraqi city, in December.

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The West’s staunchest ally against ISIS is fighting on empty

Campbell MacDiarmid writes for Maclean's:

The men of the Second Unit, Third Peshmerga Brigade, no longer fear the suicide truck bombs that a year ago might at any time come lurching through the fields toward their positions. From a concrete bunker atop a bulldozed mound southwest of Kirkuk, their French-donated heavy machine gun points skywards over the heads of Arab farmers who have returned to till their land. A network of bunkers, berms, deep trenches and barbed-wire entanglements today protects much of Iraqi Kurdistan from Islamic State attacks. But the peshmerga fighters—the international coalition’s most stalwart ally in the fight against Islamic State, or ISIS—have other things to worry about, like paying rent.

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Smuggler’s story: How one man helped Iraqis escape IS

Sara Elizabeth Williams reports for The Middle East Eye:

Amid rumblings of impending coalition offensives against Islamic State in north-east Iraq, there are increasing reports of people trying to escape the eastern Iraqi district of Hawija.

Those who make it to areas controlled by the Peshmerga or the Iraqi army speak of hunger, vicious beatings and a terrifying walk to freedom. Those who are caught trying to flee are reportedly executed and their friends and neighbours ordered to repent.

Despite these risks, there is a roaring trade in people-smuggling, secreting desperate Hawijans to the edge of IS territory, unloading them under cover of darkness and pointing them towards Peshmerga frontlines.

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Trenches, berms, walls dominate war scene in Syria, Iraq

Rikar Hussein writes for VOA:

Across the varied landscape of conflict in the Middle East, warring parties are erecting, digging and constructing trenches, berms, and walls — protection tactics that analysts say harken back to medieval times. The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq is digging trenches across 652 miles of its borders with Sunni territories as defensive lines against Islamic State (IS) attacks.

IS is digging protective trenches, meanwhile, in Mosul in preparation for an anticipated U.S.-backed attack of Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which are aimed at retaking the city. Iraqi forces liberating Fallujah from IS found an elaborate underground maze of walkways and hidden rooms.

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Why Saudis may take on Iraq’s Shiite militias

Nawaf Obaid writes for Al Monitor:

While the Obama administration focuses its attention on the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, it is ignoring an equally deadly and unchecked terrorist force in the Middle East: the Shiite militias of Iraq. Groups such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are the main three of the nearly 40 Shiite militias working under Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, an umbrella organization created, funded and supported by Iran in mid-2014, ostensibly to take on IS. However, as the Saudis and their allies have long known, these militias are in fact a growing terrorist force that has been causing havoc and bloodshed for more than a decade in the name of a sectarian Shiite revolution.

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U.S. uses cyber attacks to target ISIS in Iraq, Syria

Reuters reports:

The United States is waging cyber attacks against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, and its newly deployed commandos are also carrying out secret missions on the ground, Pentagon leaders said on Monday, in the latest signs of quietly expanding U.S. activity.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the cyber attacks, particularly in Syria, were designed to prevent Islamic State from commanding its forces, and Washington was looking to accelerate the cyber war against the Sunni militant group. "The methods we're using are new. Some of them will be surprising," Carter told a Pentagon news conference.

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Iraq must ensure better governance

Gulf News writes:

Iraq has been poorly served by successive governments in Baghdad and it is utterly disappointing that it is still hoping for better and more inclusive governance so that all its people are able to rally to the support of Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. He and the united people of Iraq need to face down the sectarian challenges that confront Iraq as it slowly ceases to be a functioning country. And there is a danger that the reality of the single state becoming several self-managing territories — that cooperate or not as their leaders deem fit — may become a more permanent arrangement.

Al Abadi has largely failed to deliver the exciting message of inclusive reform that he had promised when he came to power and large groups of Iraqi people have simply withdrawn their support for the regime. He has allowed the Iranian-dominated militias to dictate too much of the government’s military strategy and although he has managed to achieve a working alliance with the Kurdish Regional Government, it remains effectively independent in all but name.

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U.S. warns of ‘catastrophic failure’ of Iraq’s Mosul Dam

Keith Johnson writes for Foreign Policy:

The United States is ringing alarm bells about the deadly consequences of a breach in the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq, warning publicly over the weekend that a collapse of the 30-year old dam could sow havoc and destruction over a large swath of central Iraq. The unusually public warning from U.S. diplomats suggests that Baghdad has not moved with sufficient urgency to address the dam’s structural problems, nor prepared Iraqis for a possible evacuation, despite years of increasingly alarmed assessments by American technicians.

“Mosul Dam faces a serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning,” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Sunday in astatement. The embassy also put out a fact sheet on the consequences of a dam collapse, painting an apocalyptic picture of an “inland tidal wave” wreaking devastation along hundreds of miles of flood path from northern Iraq to Baghdad itself. The embassy warned that a dam breach could threaten the lives of 500,000 to 1.5 million Iraqis, knock out the country’s electricity system, and severely disrupt Iraqi agriculture.

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