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

Stephen Harper confirms 26 Canadian soldiers now in Iraq

Laura Payton reports for CBC News:

Canada has only 26 soldiers in Iraq serving as military advisers, rather than the 69 troops the government had said it was sending, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons on Wednesday. Earlier Wednesday, New Democrats said that Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told them in an email that only 26 special forces troops were on the ground in northern Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, rather than the 69.

Harper's confirmation came in response to a query from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who posed another series of short, pointed questions about Canada's deployment during question period. "It is 26 [Canadian soldiers in Iraq] today," Harper said. "The government has authorized 69, as is well-known. That's obviously a maximum. Those numbers will fluctuate depending on the decisions of operational commanders."

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Kurds in Iraq’s north make gains against Islamic State

Kirk Semple writes for the New York Times:

Kurdish fighters opened offensives against Islamic State militants in several parts of northern Iraq on Tuesday, seizing control of a border crossing with Syria that has been a major conduit for the insurgents, officials said. In a predawn push, pesh merga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government fought their way into the Rabia district, near the Syrian border, seizing control of two villages by late morning and, by day’s end, the border crossing, Kurdish officials said.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, had controlled Rabia since early June, when jihadist fighters swept across the border from Syria and quickly overwhelmed Iraqi security forces throughout the region, including in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.


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A litmus test for Kurdistan

Jenna Krajeski and Sebastian Meyer write for the New York Times:

When Iraqi Kurds say that Kirkuk is their Jerusalem, they are referring both to the city’s cultural significance and to the trouble it causes. Kurds invoke a special attachment to the oil-rich city, citing historical ties and decades of bloodshed under Saddam Hussein in their fight to secure independence for the entire region of Kurdistan. They insist that Kirkuk — which both they and the national government in Baghdad claim, and whose very size is contested, with estimates ranging from under one million to 1.6 million — should be part of any autonomous Kurdish state. This demand unnerves other ethnic groups in Kirkuk: While Kurdistan is mostly Kurdish, Kirkuk is also home to large populations of Turkmen and Arabs, among others.

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Kurds seize Iraq/Syria border post; Sunni tribe joins fight against IS

Isabel Coles and Johnny Hogg report for Reuters:

Iraqi Kurdish troops drove Islamic State fighters from a strategic border crossing with Syria on Tuesday and won the support of members of a major Sunni tribe, in one of the biggest successes since U.S. forces began bombing the Islamists.

The victory, which could make it harder for militants to operate on both sides of the frontier, was also achieved with help from Kurds from the Syrian side of the frontier, a new sign of cooperation across the border. Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters took control of the Rabia border crossing in a battle that began before dawn, an Iraqi Kurdish political source said. "It's the most important strategic point for crossing," the source said.

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IS moves forces to Syria from Northern Iraq

Rudaw reports :

Large numbers of Islamic State (IS) militants withdrew from Shingal region on Monday and headed to the Syrian border, Kurdish Peshmerga forces told Rudaw. “Around sunset a convoy of about 30 IS vehicles left the area and drove towards the Syrian border,” said Haji Ibrahim, a veteran Yezidi Peshmerga.

Ibrahim said that the IS militants were holding their front lines against the Peshmerga forces until Monday. Ibrahim said that the IS positions around Shingal have been the target of intense US airstrikes in the past few weeks. IS militants captured Shingal in early August, killing many Yezidi Kurds, taking hundreds captive and displacing around a quarter million.

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U.K. carries out first airstrikes in Iraq

Jenny Gross writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Britain's Royal Air Force carried out its first strikes in Iraq on Tuesday, destroying an Islamic State arsenal and a machine gun-mounted vehicle, the Ministry of Defense said. Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday secured parliamentary support for the U.K. to join U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq against the group, paving the way for the military to attack.

The Ministry of Defense said that Royal Air Force jets were tasked to assist Kurdish troops in northwest Iraq that were under attack by Islamic State terrorists. The military said that its initial assessment indicated the strikes were successful.

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UK warplanes make first sorties over Iraq

Mark Tran writes for the Guardian :

RAF jets have made their first strike sortie against the Islamic State (Isis) terror group. As two Tornado jets took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, David Cameron said Britain was playing its part in an international coalition aimed at destroying the “appalling terrorist organisation”.

After the jets returned to base seven hours later, the MoD said their first combat mission had not struck any targets. Officials said the sorties had, however, gathered “invaluable intelligence” in the quest to degrade Isis’s infrastructure. “Although on this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft, the intelligence gathered by the Tornados’ highly sophisticated surveillance equipment will be invaluable.”

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Fighting robs Iraqi farmers of harvest

Omar al-Jaffal writes for Al Monitor:

Approximately 60% of the residents of the Salahuddin province, 175 kilometers (109 miles) north of Baghdad, work in farming. Salahuddin was ranked the top producing province in agriculture in 2012, and earned about $400 million from agricultural products. However, the ongoing military operations in the province have cost the province its plans to cultivate 900,000 acres of wheat and barley this year.

Hamadi Jiyyad is one farmer who had hoped to see an agricultural boom in 2014 and prepared his land in the Tikrit district for wheat cultivation. However, the fighting near his fields forced him and his family to flee to Baghdad, and he postponed the winter planting until next year. After the Islamic State (IS) threatened to kill Jiyyad if he did not pay it a sum of money, he left and rented a house in Baghdad. He now sits in front of the TV screen following the news and hoping that the operations will expel IS from his province. Jiyyad told Al-Monitor, "The land was not affected, just the crops. I can farm the land in the future, but this year will be a big loss. I don't know if the state will compensate us or give us loans."


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ISIS oil funds don’t stretch as far as you may think

Robin Mills writes for the National :

As repeatedly happens in Middle East conflict, oil infrastructure was a military target last week. On Wednesday, UAE and Saudi warplanes supported US forces in destroying refineries in eastern Syria. This was not a rerun of Saddam Hussein’s scorched earth policy in Kuwait, but rather an attempt to cut off funds to ISIL.

The role of oil revenues for ISIL has come under intense scrutiny since its seizure of Mosul in June. Some estimates have suggested it earns US$2 million to $3m daily from oil sales, making it the world’s wealthiest terrorist group. But these figures are likely to have overestimated both volume and value of the oil, and the number has probably fallen significantly since then. Shortly after the fall of Mosul, ISIL held seven oilfields in northern Iraq and several small refineries, and was besieging Iraq’s largest refinery at Baiji.


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Interactive: Iraq’s exodus

Sofia Barbarani and Alia Chughtai write for Al Jazeera :

Iraqi civilians have been dragged into the country’s civil war as the Islamic State group (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) has taken over large swaths of land across central and northern Iraq, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. The onslaught this year has displaced many of the country’s ethnic and religious minorities, who fear for their lives following the Islamic State (IS) group’s proclamation of a caliphate in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria. The fast-moving crisis means that a safe place one day can become a target the next.

While media attention has focused on religious groups persecuted by IS because they do not adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam, hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims have also been displaced as a result of the violence. The Islamic State group’s takeover of Al Anbar governorate in January 2014 uprooted more than half a million Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, from their homes.

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