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

These opulent villas are 50 miles from the Islamic State’s front line in Mosul

Nick Kirkpatrick and Eugenio Grosso write for The Washington Post:

Fifty miles from Mosul’s front line sits a sprawling complex of residential homes in the suburbs of Irbil, the capital of the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. Spread in rows like little ornate white boxes, these opulent villas contrast not only with the surrounding environment but Western cliches about the Middle East, says photographer Eugenio Grosso.

Grosso’s series “Irbil White House” explores the often-ostentatious architecture of the homes built inside the gated residential complex Dream City. “I went for dinner to Dream City the first night after I moved to Kurdistan and was immediately fascinated by the architectures of the white houses,” Grosso told In Sight. “I also liked to see how elements from the Western culture and classic Greek architecture were mixed together. I thought that I might have found those kinds of villas everywhere else in the world but didn’t expect to find them in that region.”

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Civilians in Mosul’s Old City face ‘stark choices’ for survival: ICRC

Stephanie Nebehay writes for Reuters:

As many as 450,000 civilians are trapped in Mosul's Old City, caught up in house-to-house fighting between Islamic State and Iraqi government forces and cut off from aid, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

The Iraqi army says it is in the final stages of its campaign to rout the Islamist militants from their last major urban redoubt in Iraq, seven months after the U.S.-backed operation to recapture the city began.

Patrick Hamilton, ICRC deputy director for the Middle East, said civilians were facing "very stark choices" as food and water run out.

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War in Iraq: Islamic State Collapses As Military Kills ISIS Commander in West Mosul

Tom O'Connor writes for Newsweek:

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has suffered major losses in its last Iraqi stronghold of Mosul in recent days as pro-government forces have rapidly advanced against the jihadists.

Facing regular suicide vehicle bombings and sniper fire from ISIS' final pockets of control over Iraq's second largest city, Iraqi troops and their allies, which include Kurdish forces, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias and a U.S.-led coalition, have beat the ultraconservative Sunni Muslim group back to a stretch of western Mosul along the Euphrates river. In the past 24 hours alone, Iraqi forces made lightning gains on a recently opened northwestern front, taking multiple districts such as Al-Islah Al-Zarai and killing local ISIS military commander Abu Ayoub al-Shami, according to local media.

With ISIS' casualties mounting and escape routes to the militants' territory in neighboring Syria narrowing, the group that controlled nearly half of Iraq in 2014 has put up fierce resistance in defending the collapsing lines of the less than seven percent that remains. Despite the jihadists' efforts, U.S. and Iraqi officials have predicted an early victory.

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Families pour out of Mosul as Iraqi troops push into last militant-held areas

Isabel Coles writes for Reuters:

Thousands more people are fleeing Mosul every day since Iraqi troops began their push into the last Islamic State-held areas of the city last week, with food and water running out and the fighting killing increasing numbers of civilians.

More than 22,000 people have fled Mosul since the U.S.-backed forces opened a new front in the northwest of the city on May 4 to try to finally dislodge the militants, the United Nations said on Wednesday, citing Iraqi government figures.

In the past two days alone, more than 11,000 people have passed through a screening site at the Hammam al-Alil camp south of Mosul.

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Iraqi boys’ harrowing tale of captivity, training by IS

Yesica Fisch and Maya Alleruzzo write for AP:

They made the captive children, malnourished and weak from hunger, fight over a single tomato. Then the Islamic State group militants told them, "In paradise, you'll be able to eat whatever you want. But first you have to get to paradise, and you do that by blowing yourself up."

The lesson was part of the indoctrination inflicted by the militants on boys from Iraq's Yazidi religious minority after the extremist group overran the community's towns and villages in northern Iraq. The group forced hundreds of boys, some as young as 7 or 8, into training to become fighters and suicide bombers, infusing them with its murderous ideology.

Now boys who escaped captivity are struggling to regain some normalcy, living in camps for the displaced along with what is left of their families. After surviving beatings, watching horrific atrocities, being held for months or years apart from their parents, losing loved ones and narrowly escaping death themselves, they are plagued by nightmares, anxiety and outbursts of violence.

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Mosul victory in sight — at a cost

Ben Wedeman writes for CNN:

The little boy in the yellow jacket runs and jumps, alternatively waving and wiping the dust off his face. In his right hand is a strip of white cloth, intended to show he and his family are civilians. His parents are exhausted and wary, having left their home in west Mosul's Mushairfa neighborhood, but the little boy can barely contain his excitement.

Behind him, struggling against the dusty headwind, stretches a line of dozens of people, their heads bent down, trudging up a dirt track. A teenage boy in a red track suit carries a bundle on his head, his mother to his left, in the mandatory black abaya, or robe, a bundle on her head as well. Somewhere along the way she has discarded her face cover, khmar, without which ISIS would not let women in Mosul leave their houses.

Since last Friday, the day after Iraqi forces began what they hope is the final push to crush ISIS in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, around 5,000 residents have fled the city every day, according to Iraqi officers processing civilians.

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Mini-Hizballahs, Revolutionary Guard Knock-Offs, and the Future of Iran’s Militant Proxies in Iraq

Michael Knights and Michael Eisenstadt write for War on the Rocks:

As the war against the Islamic State enters the final stretch, with less than a quarter of Mosul left to liberate, the Iraqi government must decide whether to allow a residual U.S. military support mission to stay on in Iraq. Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias have already weighed in on the matter. In early May 2017, Jafar al-Hosseini, a spokesman and senior commander of the Kata’ib Hizballah militia, told Iranian state media: “If [the] Americans fail to leave Iraq [following the defeat of Islamic State] they will be in the crosshairs of the Iraqi Islamic resistance.” Statements such as these, delivered confidently with little fear of government reproach, raise the question: Who is really in charge in Iraq?

The future of Iraq’s Hashd al-Sha’abi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and their constituent militias is one of the most consequential policy challenges facing the Iraqi government and its coalition partners, such as the United States. Raised by a religious fatwa and a political executive order, the PMF played a crucial role in stemming the advance of Islamic State in June 2014, eventually incorporating both Shiite and non-Shiite fighters. But the PMF consist of diverse elements. These include Iranian-backed Shiite militias, “shrine PMF” (whose leaders were selected by the quietist Shiite clergy in Najaf), and Sunni PMF. The latter two groups are assets for Iraq that will hopefully be incorporated into Iraqi Army, Counter-Terrorism Service and police forces. The Tehran-backed PMF, however, are a different matter and their future is a source of acute concern for Washington.

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Iraq forces advance in west Mosul

Mostafa Abulezz and Ammar Karim report for AFP:

Iraqi forces are making swift progress in west Mosul, officers said Tuesday, retaking several neighbourhoods on their way to a final showdown with jihadists in the Old City.

With Iraq's biggest military operation in years set to enter its eighth month in a week, the Islamic State group was only holding on to a handful of neighbourhoods in west Mosul.

Forces from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service "liberated the Northern Industrial Area on the western side," said the Joint Operations Command coordinating the war against IS in Iraq.

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Iraq fears for its future once Isis falls

Erika Solomon writes for Financial Times:

Before ISIS militants assaulted his northern Iraqi village in 2014, an old friend called Abu Hassan and urged him to flee. But it wasn’t a friendly tip-off, he says. It was a threat. “He called to mock me,” says the 30-year-old shepherd. “He said, ‘Forget your sheep. Forget your chickens. Forget your home’.”

Today, Abu Hassan, who asked that his real name not be used, still cannot understand how the friend he grew up with could support the jihadi group that killed thousands and branded his own minority sect infidels worthy of slaughter. “After something like this, how do people live together again?” he asks.

As the battle against Isis in Mosul enters its final stages, it is a question many are grappling with in the diverse province of Nineveh, some 300km from Baghdad and with a population of more than 3m.

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Civilians complicate final phase of Mosul campaign: U.S. commander

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

The Islamic State fighters herded a group of civilians into a house in the city of Mosul and locked them inside as Iraqi forces advanced. Moments later, the militants entered through a window, lay low for a few minutes, then fired their weapons.

The plan was simple. They would draw attention to the house by firing from the windows, then move to an adjacent building through a hole in the wall, in hope of goading coalition jets flying above to strike the house.

What the militants did not realize was that U.S. advisers partnered with Iraqi troops were watching the whole thing on an aerial drone feed. No air strike was called - and the propaganda coup Islamic State would have reaped from the deaths of innocent people was averted.

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