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

As Iraqi Forces Encircle Mosul, ISIS Unleashes New Level Of Brutality On Civilians

Jane Arraf reports for NPR:

An Iraqi army truck pulls up to an abandoned gas station on the edge of Mosul in northern Iraq.

Exhausted-looking men and boys climb out of the back — civilians evacuated from neighborhoods that Iraqi security forces have just freed. They've suffered through six months of fighting between ISIS and Iraqi security forces.

Many say that as Iraqi forces close in on the remaining ISIS-held neighborhoods, ISIS has become increasingly brutal toward the civilians they are using as human shields.

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Bookstore on wheels turns heads in Baghdad

Sinan Salaheddin reports for AP:

The Iraqis guarding Baghdad's many checkpoints, on the lookout for car bombs and convoys, don't know what to make of Ali al-Moussawi when he pulls up in a truck displaying shelves of glossy books.

The mobile bookstore is the latest in a series of efforts by the 25-year-old to share his passion for reading and revive a love for books in Baghdad, which was once the literary capital of the Muslim world but is now better known for bombs than poems.

It began with "Iraqi Bookish," a Facebook group for readers launched in 2015. He eventually started organizing book clubs, contests, signings and writing seminars held at cultural centers and cafes.

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Iraq says ‘friendly’ nations contacted over Qatari captives

AP reports:

Iraq's prime minister says "friendly countries" and its neighbors have been contacted over the fate of captive Qataris, including ruling family members, kidnapped in the country in late 2015.

Haider al-Abadi's comments late Tuesday came as suspicion over the December 2015 kidnappings has fallen on Shiite militias, suggesting Iraq may have reached out to Iran to secure their release.

Iranian media did not immediately report on al-Abadi's comments.

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Islamic State seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says

Reuters reports:

Islamic State is talking to al Qaeda about a possible alliance as Iraqi troops close in on IS fighters in Mosul, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi said in an interview on Monday.

Allawi said he got the information on Monday from Iraqi and regional contacts knowledgeable about Iraq.

"The discussion has started now," Allawi said. "There are discussions and dialogue between messengers representing Baghdadi and representing Zawahiri," referring to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda.

 

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Iraq’s Unlikely Love Affair With Cuddly Canines

Peter Schwartzstein writes for Newsweek:

It’s 9 o’clock on a chilly night in January, and the Adhamiyah animal market is teeming with visitors. There are the private zoo owners who’ve dropped by to size up the mangy lions and monkeys, and young couples sneaking furtive kisses in the shadows, ignoring the animals.

Yet here in Baghdad’s largest beast bazaar, it’s families and earnest-looking businessmen who outnumber the gawkers and flirts. And they have no interest in exotic flora and fauna. Darting among the cages, they eagerly scan mutt after mutt, dismissing each in turn. “Too small,” Mohammed Salama, a car salesman, says of the Jack Russell terriers. “Useless,” he calls the lone dachshund. It’s only when a dealer points out a new shipment of rottweiler puppies, cowering in the back of a shabby enclosure, that Salama and his children stop. “Yes, why didn’t you show us these before?” he asks. “This is what I want!”

So, it seems, do many of his countrymen. Every week, vendors ship rambunctious pups over the border from Turkey, then circulate them around Iraq. Some are dispatched directly to military installations, where they’re trained for bomb sniffing. Most, however, make their way to markets or small, roadside vendors for sale to private buyers.

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Iraq opens new Tigris bridge escape route for people fleeing Mosul

Ulf Laessing writes for Reuters:

Iraqi's army has built a new pontoon bridge over the Tigris river south of Mosul, after flooding had blocked all crossing points, opening an escape route for families fleeing fighting between government forces and Islamic State.

On Friday, the army dismantled makeshift bridges linking the two parts of Mosul due to heavy rain, forcing residents leaving Iraq's second-largest city to use small boats.

The city's permanent bridges have been largely destroyed during a six-month military campaign to seize back Mosul from the Sunni Muslim Islamists, which overran it in 2014.

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UN: Mosul fighting has displaced nearly half a million Iraqis

Deutsche Welle reports:

A new UN report has revealed the humanitarian catastrophe caused by fighting against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS). One UN official called the number of displaced civilians "staggering."

Nearly half a million people have fled their homes since the Iraqi army began its military offensive to drive IS out of Mosul last year, the UN said on Monday.

Following the launch of the operation on October 17, the army was able to recapture the eastern part of the city in January. But fighting between Iraqi forces and IS militants on the part of the city that lies west of the Tigris river has driven out hundreds of thousands of people.

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Patrolling western Mosul a weary grind for Iraqi police

Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana write for AP:

On the western side of Mosul, much of the fighting against Islamic State militants takes place between houses so close that they almost touch. Snipers fire from roofs and through holes blasted into outer walls.

Seen through these holes, this part of Iraq’s second-largest city is a landscape of half-collapsed buildings, burned-out cars and rubbish-strewn streets. Helicopters hover and barricades of sandbags block the streets.

The Islamic State extremists who took over the city in 2014 were driven out of eastern Mosul by Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force in January. Much of the fighting in the city’s western districts, however, has been done by the heavily militarized federal police force.

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The Islamic State has tunnels everywhere. It’s making ISIS much harder to defeat.

Amanda Erickson writes for The Washington Post:

Yesterday, the United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” on a network of Islamic State caves and tunnels in Afghanistan. The military said its spectacular use of force was necessary to destroy the underground terror hideout (though it's not clear that the MOAB was the right tool to accomplish that goal.)

Tunnels are not just the purview of the Islamic State's small Afghanistan force. Like other guerrilla groups, the Islamic State has created tunnel systems underneath many of the cities and villages that they occupy. These pathways are essential to their strategy, enabling them to move stealthily, strike quickly and escape capture.

It's hard to know how many tunnels exist or where. But anecdotal reports suggest that the network is extensive. After Iraq troops began trying to take back Mosul in 2016, for example, Iraqi troops and the Kurdish peshmerga found that the road into the city had been honeycombed with tunnels, many booby-trapped. Mosul, too, had an extensive underlayer of pathways. As an Iraqi intelligence officer told my colleague last year, “they're everywhere.” The same was true underneath Fallujah.

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War, Terrorism, and The Christian Exodus From The Middle East

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

A decade ago, I spent Easter in Damascus. Big chocolate bunnies and baskets of pastel eggs decorated shop windows in the Old City. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Easters were celebrated, and all Syrians were given time off for both three-day holidays on sequential weekends. I stopped in the Umayyad Mosque, which was built in the eighth century and named after the first dynasty to lead the Islamic world. The head of John the Baptist is reputedly buried in a large domed sanctuary—although claims vary—on the mosque’s grounds. Muslims revere John as the Prophet Yahya, the name in Arabic. Because of his birth to a long-barren mother and an aged father, Muslim women who are having trouble getting pregnant come to pray at his tomb. I watched as Christian tourists visiting the shrine mingled with Muslim women.

At least half of Syria’s Christians have fled since then. The flight is so pronounced that, in 2013, Gregory III, the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, wrote an open letter to his flock: “Despite all your suffering, stay here! Don’t emigrate!”

Syria’s Christians are part of a mass exodus taking place throughout the Middle East, the cradle of the faith. Today, Christians are only about four per cent of the region’s more than four hundred million people—and probably less. They “have been subject to vicious murders at the hands of terrorist groups, forced out of their ancestral lands by civil wars, suffered societal intolerance fomented by Islamist groups, and subjected to institutional discrimination found in the legal codes and official practices of many Middle Eastern countries,” as several fellows at the Center for American Progress put it.

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