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

How important is the battle for Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery?

Jill S. Russell writes for the BBC:

The struggle between Iraqi government forces and Shia militia against Islamic State (IS) for control of the country's largest oil refinery, Baiji, is at yet another critical moment. Although it has changed hands several times in recent months, the current offensive by IS threatens once again to displace Iraqi troops and their allies.

The importance of retaking the nearby IS-held town of Baiji and relieving the refinery was stressed last month by the United States' most senior military officer, Gen Martin Dempsey, who said doing so would deprive IS of a major source of revenue. Its capture is also seen as crucial for plans to attack IS in Mosul, owing to its position on the main road north to the city from Baghdad.

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Iraq’s foreign minister addresses ties with both U.S. and Iran

Alexandra Zavis writes for the Los Angeles Times:

As Iraq's government attempts to reclaim territory seized by the extremist group Islamic State, it has accepted military aid from two rival powers, the United States and Iran. It is a difficult balancing act.

U.S. officials were troubled by the role of prominent Iranian advisors such as Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who was photographed supposedly drinking tea outside Tikrit at the start of the recent offensive on the hometown of the late Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Suleimani, who commands the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, was accused by the U.S. of directing attacks on its forces in Iraq a decade ago.

U.S. officials have also raised concern about Shiite Muslim militiamen, some of them backed by Iran, who made up the bulk of the fighting force in Tikrit and are expected to take a prominent role in an attempt to drive Islamic State from the city of Mosul.

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Iraq begins training of Sunni tribal fighters to stem advance of Islamic State

Nour Malas reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Iraq’s Shiite-led government has begun training Sunni tribal fighters here in the western province of Anbar, in an urgent U.S.-backed initiative to stem recent advances by Islamic State. The setbacks in Anbar have exposed the need for trusted and equipped Sunni fighters to help turn momentum against Islamic State and dry up the extremists’ pool of potential recruits.

“When the government fails, people turn to Islamic State,” said Mohammad Abu Risha, a young tribal sheik from Anbar who commands 150 fighters. “The tribes don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the tribes.”

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Here’s why Iran and Iraq should worry OPEC

Stephen Sedgwick writes for CNBC:

Caveat emptor! The big Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) summer pow-wow is only 24 days away now and ceteris paribus we should see a continuation of the status quo. Right that's enough Latin, the only languages that really count at the meeting will be Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish and money, namely petrodollars.

As far as I can see, this one is about how Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq solve a growing problem of how you cap OPEC production – and thereby falling prices - at a time when Baghdad and Tehran are desperate to up output

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Iraq’s Christians seek another country

Miles Windsor writes for the Wall Street Journal:

As in so many urban centers across the Middle East, the marketplace here on a Friday—before the mosques’ calls to prayer—is a whirlwind of bright colors and noisy, animated bargaining. It’s a festival for the senses. On the fringe of the town square, opposite the antediluvian citadel, stands the Bazaar Nishtiman, a vast mall that hosts a plethora of cheap-denim stores on its lower levels and 150 Christian refugee families in the upper levels.

The mall’s owner, a Christian, has given permission for the refugees to use the converted stalls for as long as they need shelter. Last June, thousands of Christian refugees fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other villages on the Nineveh Plain following the advance of Islamic State. Conversations with some of these displaced Christians reveal a common, striking theme. It quickly becomes clear that the greatest threat to the future of Christianity in Iraq is no longer the Islamic State assault but the evaporation of hope.

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Iraq counts on magic wands to stop ISIS

Jacob Siegel writes for the Daily Beast:

Last summer, in the days after the group now known as ISIS began its assault across Iraq, many feared that Baghdad could soon fall. Car bombs regularly killed dozens inside the capital. Police and soldiers manned checkpoints across the city. They were Baghdad’s defense and symbols of the state’s power in the face of onslaught. To protect the capital, these cops and soldiers were armed with magic wands. They still are now, nearly a year later.

Across Iraq, members of the security forces carry these magic wands—Rube Goldberg gadgets supposedly designed to detect explosives. The walkie talkie-sized instruments, as ubiquitous in Baghdad as radios are on cops in the United States, are useless pieces of plastic and a required piece of equipment. They were purchased by the Iraqi government for millions of dollars and are still in use to this day, waved around cars like divining rods, two years after a British con man was sentenced to prison for selling them.

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Islamic State deputy leader ‘killed in Iraq air strike’

BBC reports :

The second-in-command of Islamic State (IS) has been killed in a US-led coalition air strike in northern Iraq, the Iraqi ministry of defence says. Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammed, also known as Abu Alaa al-Afri, was inside a mosque in Tal Afar that was targeted, spokesman Brig-Gen Tahsin Ibrahim said. There was no immediate confirmation from the US military or on IS media.

In recent weeks, there were unconfirmed reports that Afri had taken temporary charge of IS operations.
Iraqi security sources claimed that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been incapacitated as a result of a coalition air strike in northern Iraq in March.

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Report: 2.2 million Iraqis displaced by ISIS

AP reports:

Conflicts and violence worldwide displaced a record 38 million people in 2014, with 2.2 million Iraqis alone forced to flee the Islamic State group, a Norwegian humanitarian group report released Wednesday revealed. The findings of the study carried out by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center are endorsed by the United Nations refugee agency. In a joint statement, they said 11 million were newly displaced last year — mostly because of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s the equivalent of 30,000 people each day.

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Ex-CEO sentenced for scheme involving Iraq, Afghanistan work

AP reports:

The former CEO of a New Jersey-based engineering consulting company has been sentenced for a scheme in which the U.S. government was overbilled for reconstruction projects for nearly 20 years. Derish Wolff will serve 12 months of home confinement and will be required to pay a $4.5 million fine. The 79-year-old Bernardsville resident worked for Morristown-based Louis Berger Group.

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Scene of Iraqi massacre becomes Shiite pilgrimage site

Tim Arango and Anne Barnard report for the New York Times:

The concrete platform at the river’s edge is festooned with flowers and streaked with blood. Along a back wall are photographs taken from a video of the horror that unfolded here last year: a procession of Shiite men, shot in the head one by one by Islamic State fighters and shoved into the waters of the Tigris. “It’s just because we are Shia,” said Halil Kareem Garim, 61, standing near the river as he recalled the cousin he lost. “We don’t have any problems with Sunnis — we are praying to the same God. It is their mentality. They hate us.”

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