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

Iraqi PM, in call with Trump, requests end to travel ban

Reuters reports:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked U.S. President Donald Trump to lift the ban on people from his country traveling to the United States, in the first phone call between the two leaders, the Iraqi government said on Friday.

"Mr. Trump stressed the importance of coordination to find a solution to this issue as soon as possible and that he will direct the U.S. State Department in this regard," the government said in a statement, adding that it was the U.S. president who had initiated the call on Thursday.

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Iraq’s ‘cycling girls’ ride for freedom

Jean Marc Mojon writes for AFP:

Her name is Marina Jaber but to many she is "the girl on the bike", a young Baghdad artist inspiring Iraqi women to exercise their rights one pedal at a time.

In Iraq's conservative society, the young woman cuts an unusual figure when she rides her red bicycle in the streets of the capital, her long black hair swaying in the wind.

What started off as an art project became a social media meme and then a civil society movement. A group of women now gathers regularly to cycle in Baghdad and break new ground.

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US Commander: Mosul and Raqqa Should Be Retaken in 6 Months

AP reports:

Forces fighting the Islamic State group should be able to retake the IS-held cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria within the next six months, according to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

On a tour north of Baghdad Wednesday, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said "within the next six months I think we'll see both (the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns) conclude."

Townsend also said he expected the fight for Mosul's western half to begin in days.

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In Mosul Battle, ISIS Used Hospital Base

Human Rights Watch reports:

Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters who had occupied a Mosul hospital for two years put staff and patients at risk of attack during the December 2016 battle by the Iraq Security Forces to retake Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today.

After the battle around the al-Salam hospital in Wahda neighborhood, ISIS dragged seven Iraqi soldiers’ corpses through the streets. One resident told Human Rights Watch that several days later he saw the bodies of three soldiers hanging from a bridge. The area is no longer under ISIS control.

“As the battle for Mosul unfolds, we are finding that ISIS is regularly occupying medical facilities and placing civilians and staff there at risk of incoming attacks,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Shamefully, ISIS fighters have also taken to advertising their abuses on the streets, as they did with the soldiers’ bodies.”

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Love in the time of ISIS

Adnan R. Khan writes for Maclean's:

Mustafa Sofyan met Rosol Abd al Karim for the first time on a bright morning in the spring of 2014. ‘Met’ might actually be too strong a word for it. In the religiously conservative world of Mosul, a boy does not ‘meet’ a girl. He sees her across a field in a crowded park. He catches a glimpse of her hazel, almond shaped eyes. He is struck by her red lips as they part into a radiant smile.

It was unusual in more ways than one. Mosul in early 2014 was not a place that inspired love stories. The apoplectic city of nearly two million exhausted inhabitants had lived through Iraq’s brutal insurgency, led by religious fanatics whose idea of love was sacrificing yourself for the glory of God. For them, teenage love was dangerous.

But for Mustafa, the fear of fanatics was a pittance compared to his fear of never properly meeting Rosol. He mustered the courage to pass on his cellphone number to her through a mutual friend. To his delight, she called him, if at first only to tell him to stop staring at her all the time. A poet at heart, it didn’t take him long to win her over.

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Sinjar After ISIS

Christine Balling writes for Foreign Affairs:

When I first met Captain Khatoon Ali Krdr, at a peshmerga military base near Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, last June, her all-female Yazidi peshmerga unit, the Hezi Roj, or “Sun Force,” was weeks away from graduating from its first basic infantry training course, which involved military discipline, physical conditioning, and the handling of weaponry such as selective-fire rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Khatoon had formed the Sun Force, the only all-female, all-Yazidi unit in the Kurdish peshmerga, in response to the horrors that the Islamic State (or ISIS) had inflicted on Sinjar, a majority-Yazidi district of Iraqi Kurdistan. In August 2014, ISIS had slaughtered over 5,000 Yazidi men in the district. And in Snuny, a town at the base of Mount Sinjar, where the Sun Force is currently deployed, ISIS had killed unknown numbers of Yazidi residents, dumping their bodies into mass graves before the peshmerga retook the town in 2015.

When I returned to Iraq seven months later, I met the Sun Force in Snuny, which is close to the Syrian border. The road there from Dohuk is broken up by peshmerga checkpoints. To the east, I saw the Syrian oil wells, whose smooth, rhythmic motions made it hard for me to believe that the ravaged city of Aleppo lay but a few hundred miles beyond. To the west, I saw an abandoned village where fresh mounds of dirt lay in the graveyard—the only sign that people still lived there. In Snuny, fewer than ten percent of the original population of approximately 150,000 have returned. Although the peshmerga provides security and has restored electricity by bringing in power generators, devastation is everywhere.

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IS made sulphur weapons in Mosul university: Pentagon

AFP reports:

Tests have confirmed that the Islamic State group was making rudimentary chemical weapons at the University of Mosul, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Coalition-backed Iraqi forces in mid-January took control of the sprawling campus of the university, which IS had used as a headquarters during its two-and-a-half-year rule of the city.

Mosul University was "central to the ISIS chemical weapons program," Davis said, using an IS acronym.

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The Desperate Battle To Destroy ISIS

Luke Mogelson writes for The New Yorker:

When the campaign to expel the Islamic State from Mosul began, on October 17th, the Nineveh Province SWAT team was deployed far from the action, in the village of Kharbardan. For weeks, the élite police unit, made up almost entirely of native sons of Mosul, had been patrolling a bulldozed trench that divided bleak and vacant enemy-held plains from bleak and vacant government-held plains. The men, needing a headquarters, had commandeered an abandoned mud-mortar house whose primary charm was its location: the building next door had been obliterated by an air strike, and the remains of half a dozen Islamic State fighters—charred torsos, limbs, and heads—still littered the rubble.

The SWAT-team members huddled around a lieutenant with a radio, listening to news of the offensive. The Kurdish Army, or peshmerga, was advancing toward Mosul from the north; various divisions of the Iraqi military were preparing a push from the south. More than a hundred thousand soldiers, policemen, and government-sanctioned-militia members were expected to participate in the fight to liberate Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. It had been occupied since June, 2014, and was now home to about six thousand militants from the Islamic State, or ISIS. The SWAT-team members were desperate to join the battle. They called relatives in Mosul, chain-smoked cigarettes, and excoriated the war planners, from Baghdad, who seemed to have forgotten them. Major Mezher Sadoon, the deputy commander, urged patience: the campaign would unfold in stages. At forty-six, he had a flattop and a paintbrush mustache that were equal parts black and gray. He had been shot in the face in Mosul, in 2004, and since then his jaw had been held together by four metal pins. The deformed bone caused his speech to slur—subtly when he spoke at a normal pace and volume (rare), and severely when he was angry or excited (often). Many villages surrounding Mosul had to be cleared before forces could retake the city, Mezher told his men. Holding out his hands, he added, “When you kill a chicken, first you have to boil it. Then you have to pluck it. Only after that do you get to butcher it.”

Few of the policemen seemed reassured by the analogy. They were hungry, and they’d been waiting to butcher this chicken for a long time. The SWAT team was created in 2008 and, in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, conducted raids in Mosul to arrest high-value terrorism suspects. After the American withdrawal from the country, in 2011, the unit hunted down insurgents on its own.

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UN Says 30,000 Have Returned to Iraq’s Mosul

Bram Janssen reports for AP:

Some 30,000 people have returned to Mosul since Iraqi forces launched a massive operation in October to retake the country's second largest city from the Islamic State group, the U.N. said Tuesday.

The number of returnees has increased since Iraqi forces drove the militants from the eastern half of the city last month, according to U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid. IS still holds western Mosul, home to an estimated 750,000 people.

At times, the crowds have overwhelmed checkpoints outside the city, where security forces are screening those who want to return.

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Iraq’s Unique Wildlife Pushed to Brink by War, Hunting

Peter Schwartzstein writes for National Geographic:

Even by the Islamic State’s brutal standards, the mess its fighters made of Kaldo Shoman’s farm had to be seen to be believed.

Over more than two decades, Shoman and his two brothers had labored to turn their land into an ad-hoc animal sanctuary. By planting trees, they hoped to attract migrating birds—and eventually tourists—to this largely barren swath of northwestern Iraq. In an area with scarce water, they carved out an artificial pond—and then watched as wild pigs and the occasional gazelle came calling.

But in one fell swoop, the Islamic State wiped their refuge off the map.

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