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

More than 100 ISIS fighters launch large-scale counterattack on Iraqi forces in Mosul

Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP:

More than 100 Islamic State militants launched a counterattack in Mosul on Wednesday, killing 11 Federal Police and four civilians in clashes that were still underway, Iraqi security officials said.

The wide-scale assault underscored the extremist group's resilience in the city despite months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power.

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What Gertrude Bell’s Letters Remind Us About the Founding of Iraq

Elias Muhanna writes for The New Yorker:

I first encountered the work of the British traveller, archeologist, and spy Gertrude Bell many years ago, while hunting in the archives for a Carmelite priest named Père Anastase-Marie de Saint-Élie, an obscure figure in the history of Arabic lexicography. “He’s a jolly monk, an Arab from the Lebanon straight out of Chaucer all the same and with a clear eye fixed on the main chance; very learned in his own tongue, he speaks and writes French like a Frenchman,” Bell wrote of Anastase, in a letter to her father on November 9, 1917. “I like him none the worse for his being in spite of his cloth, I’m persuaded, a rogue.”

In the course of the afternoon, I forgot about the priest and became absorbed by Bell’s letters, which are as rich in ethnographic detail as any of the great nineteenth-century European travelogues, but chattier—devoid of the heroic rhetoric of T. E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Bell, who was born in 1868 to wealthy industrialists, and earned first-class honors in Modern History at Oxford, was sent to Persia by her stepmother in 1892, and, staying with the family of the British ambassador in Tehran, was immediately captivated by her environs. She returned to the region to travel across Syria and the northern reaches of the Arabian desert, taking photographs and excavating ancient ruins as an amateur archeologist. She also became fluent in Arabic and Persian, spending months at a time exploring some of the most forbidding landscapes in the Middle East. During her travels, she learned about “the politics of the desert: who had sold horses, who owned camels, who had been killed in a raid, how much the blood money would be or where the next battle,” as she put it in a letter to her family, in May, 1900. She also unnerved the authorities. The Ottomans thought her a spy, and the British made a show of discouraging her from venturing into unsafe territory, while also hoping to benefit from the information she gathered.

Eventually, Bell was entrusted by the British government, on the basis of her unparalleled knowledge of the region, to sketch out what she describes as “a reasonable border” between Iraq and the territory controlled by Ibn Saud, the founder of the future Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This task, along with her advocacy for Arab self-determination at the Cairo Conference of 1921, is one of the reasons why historians, biographers, and filmmakers have crowded around her, particularly since Iraq has again become a focus of geopolitical contestation. The other reason is her letters, which capture both her charisma and the intensely social character of her time in the Middle East. Like the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in recent years, Bell’s archive of correspondence is a reminder of the daily disorder obscured by other political documents: maps, treaties, bulletins.

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Mistaken paint jobs blamed after dozens of U.S.-funded trucks surface in Iraq with Afghan logos

Dan Lamothe writes for The Washington Post:

Dozens of Ford pickup trucks with the Afghan National Army’s logos on them surfaced in Iraq not because they were smuggled in, but because they were delivered by the United States with the wrong paint jobs, according to the Pentagon.

The issue arose after a freelance journalist, Courtney Body, shared a photograph online last month of a pickup while outside Mosul, Iraq, drawing attention to the tan color and red, black and green triangle logo on the door that is used by the Afghan National Army.

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Terrified civilians hide from gunfire in Mosul pre-school

Layal Abou Rahal writes for AFP:

The bullets of jihadists rain down outside the Mosul kindergarten, where dozens of terrified Iraqi civilians are sheltering from fighting in their northern city.

Confused, scared and exhausted, the civilians -- mostly women, including one in a wheelchair -- huddle in the pre-school after Iraqi forces brought them in for protection.

The sounds of sniper fire, air strikes, and shelling echo all around them, as Iraqi forces fight to dislodge Islamic State group fighters from a nearby building.

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U.S.-Led Coalition Has Used White Phosphorus In Fight For Mosul, General Says

Alison Meuse reports for NPR:

In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition has admitted — for the first time — to using white phosphorus during operations in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

"We have utilized white phosphorus to screen areas within west Mosul to get civilians out safely," New Zealand Brig. Gen. Hugh McAslan tells NPR. He estimates that around 28,000 civilians have managed to make the dangerous crossing out of Islamic State territory in the past few days alone.

Coalition spokesmen previously have confirmed the use of the incendiary substance in less-populated areas of northern Iraq in the fight against ISIS. But this is the first confirmation that white phosphorus has been used in Mosul.

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Deadly food poisoning tears through camp for displaced people

AP reports:

A mass food poisoning at a camp for displaced people near the northern city of Mosul has killed at least two and sickened hundreds, Iraq's health minister said on Tuesday.

Adila Hamoud, the minister, told The Associated Press in Baghdad that 752 people took ill after a meal the previous evening at the Hassan Sham U2 camp, located about 13 miles east of Mosul.

The food, provided by a non-governmental organization, was meant for an iftar, a meal with which Muslims break their dawn-to-dusk fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Hamoud said a woman and a girl died while at least 300 people remain in critical condition.

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Mosul’s Library Without Books

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

I could smell the acrid soot a block away. The library at the University of Mosul, among the finest in the Middle East, once had a million books, historic maps, and old manuscripts. Some dated back centuries, even a millennium, Mohammed Jasim, the library’s director, told me. Among its prize acquisitions was a Quran from the ninth century, although the library also housed thousands of twenty-first-century volumes on science, philosophy, law, world history, literature, and the arts. Six hundred thousand books were in Arabic; many of the rest were in English. During the thirty-two months that the Islamic State ruled the city, the university campus, on tree-lined grounds near the Tigris River, was gradually closed down and then torched. Quite intentionally, the library was hardest hit. ISIS sought to kill the ideas within its walls—or at least the access to them.

On a rainy day this spring, I walked the muddy and eerily deserted university grounds, in eastern Mosul. I turned a corner and saw the library, a block-long building, charred black and its shell strewn, inside and out, with splintered glass, burnt beams, heat-warped furniture, toppled shelves, and mounds of ashes. In December, as the Iraqi Army pushed into Mosul, ISIS fighters had set the library alight. The books had served as kindling.

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From ‘caliph’ to fugitive: IS leader Baghdadi’s new life on the run

Michael Georgy and Maher Chmaytelli write for Reuters:

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is on the brink of losing the two main centers of his 'caliphate' but even though he is on the run, it may take years to capture or kill him, officials and experts said.

Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group's territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and officials say Baghdadi is steering clear of both, hiding in thousands of square miles of desert between the two.

"In the end, he will either be killed or captured, he will not be able to remain underground forever," said Lahur Talabany, the head of counter-terrorism at the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. "But this is a few years away still," he told Reuters.

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Down to the river for youths from Iraq’s embattled Mosul

Layal Abou Rahal writes for AFP:

With bare tree branches as diving boards, they take off and plunge into Iraq's Khazir River, a rare moment of respite for boys forced from their homes in the battleground city of Mosul.

The river which flows into the mighty Tigris has been providing a welcome escape for dozens of youths displaced by fighting to oust Islamic State (IS) group jihadists from Mosul, ever since the boys made a breach in the fence at their Wazir camp.

This year's Muslim dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan, which started in late May, comes at a time when the mercury can soar to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in the Mosul area.

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Booby-traps … but no Baghdadi: the men cleaning up after Isis in northern Iraq

Martin Chulov writes for The Guardian:

At the heart of the town that had sheltered him, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s presence still lurked in ransacked files and ruined buildings. It had been four days since the Islamic State fighters had fled Ba’aj, taking with them all they could as they headed for a last stand in the deserts of Syria. But despite their haste, the fleeing extremists left behind clues to how much this small, forsaken corner of north-western Iraq mattered to the world’s most dangerous terror group, and its fugitive leader.

Long held up as an icon of Isis’s strength, Ba’aj is now a symbol of its precipitous decline. Every village between the town and the Syrian border has been overrun in the past nine days by Shia militia forces allied to the Iraqi government, who are moving quickly to set up bases in the town.

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