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

Iraq says it alone will decide on Mosul offensive

Reuters reports:

Iraq’s defense minister said on Wednesday only Baghdad will decide the time and scale of an attack recapture Mosul, after U.S. officials sent conflicting signals about the offensive. Mosul is the largest city under the control of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents who have declared a cross-border caliphate encompassing eastern Syria and parts of western and northern Iraq. Its recapture would be a pivotal victory for Baghdad.

A U.S. Central Command official said two weeks ago that the offensive could start in April or May, using 20,000 to 25,000 troops. U.S. officials have since suggested that timing could slip to the autumn. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday the original briefing was inaccurate and that military officials should not discuss war plans in any case.

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Iraq: pro-government forces struggle to topple Isis in Tikrit

Kareem Shaheen reports for the Guardian:

An offensive to retake Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit appears to have slowed, with fighters struggling to uproot Islamic State militants battling to retain control of one of their major bastions in Iraq. Pro-government forces, led by Shia militias and including the Iraqi army and tribal fighters, this week launched a three-pronged assault on the centre of the city, which was conquered by Isis in a lightning advance last summer.

“Their situation is deteriorating and God willing the advance will continue,” said Ahmad al-Kinani, a member of the political council of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, a Shia militia and political organisation taking part in the offensive. The operation to reclaim Tikrit is a key test for the Iraqi government and the militias, known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, which have been at the forefront of the fight against Isis.

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ISIL fighters bulldoze ancient Assyrian palace in Iraq

Jane Arraf writes for Al Jazeera:

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters have used a bulldozer to start destroying a 3,000-year-old Assyrian city near Mosul in Iraq, archaeologists and other sources have told Al Jazeera. The demolition at Nimrud on Thursday comes less than a week after video was released showing ISIL fighters destroying ancient artefacts in a Mosul museum.

"They came at midday with a bulldozer and started destroying the palace," said an Iraqi official in touch with antiquities staff in Mosul. She said the winged-bull statues known as lamassu at the gates of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II had been smashed. It was not clear what else had been destroyed on the site, about 20km southeast of Mosul.

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U.S. strategy in Iraq increasingly relies on Iran

Helene Cooper writes for the New York Times :

At a time when President Obama is under political pressure from congressional Republicans over negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, a startling paradox has emerged: Mr. Obama is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria without committing American ground troops.

In the four days since Iranian troops joined 30,000 Iraqi forces to try to wrest Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit back from Islamic State control, American officials have said the United States is not coordinating with Iran, one of its fiercest global foes, in the fight against a common enemy.

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UN: Iraq violence kills at least 1,100 in February

Sameer N. Yacoub reports for AP:

Iraq's prime minister called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the Islamic State group Sunday, ahead of a promised offensive to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown from the extremists. Haider al-Abadi offered no timeline for an attack on Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad that fell into the hands of the Islamic State group last summer. However, Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces have stationed themselves around Tikrit as state-run media has warned that the city "will soon return to its people."

But sending Shiite militias into the Sunni city of Tikrit, the capital of Iraq's Salahuddin province, could reprise the bloody, street-by-street insurgent battles that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. On Saturday, two suicide car bombers killed 16 nearby Shiite militiamen and wounded 31.

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These Americans return to Iraq as Christian warriors against Islamic State

Loveday Morris writes for the Washington Post:

In a smoky living room in a makeshift military headquarters in this northern Iraqi city, Brett, a former U.S serviceman with tattoos of Jesus etched on his forearms, explains how he hopes to help to keep the church bells of Iraq ringing. “Jesus tells us what you do unto the least of them, you do unto me,” said the 28-year-old from Detroit, who served an extended tour in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and asked for his surname not to be published to protect his family at home. “I couldn’t sit back and watch what was happening, women being raped and sold wholesale.”

So in December he travelled to northern Iraq, where he joined a growing band of foreigners leaving their lives in the West behind to fight with newly formed Christian militias. The leaders of those militias say they’ve been swamped with hundreds of requests from veterans and volunteers from around the world who want to join them.

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Iraq launches major offensive to recapture Tikrit from ISIL

Al Jazeera reports:

Government forces backed by allied Shia and Sunni fighters have begun a large-scale military operation to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The offensive is part of the biggest military operation in the Sunni-majority province of Salahuddin since last June, when ISIL fighters, exploiting sectarian resentments of the Shia-led government, seized vast swaths of northern Iraq and advanced towards the capital, Baghdad.

"Today, God willing, we start an important military campaign to liberate the citizens of Salahuddin province," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi said on Monday, speaking to forces gathered at the government-held city of Samarra, where the operation was launched.

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After 6,000 years, time for a renovation at Iraq’s Citadel

Ari Shapiro writes for NPR:

A map of the northern Iraqi city of Erbil looks like a dart board: circles, radiating outward from a central core. The bull's-eye sits high on a hill, crowned by ancient walls. The Erbil Citadel has stood here for at least 6,000 years. It's one of the oldest — and possibly the oldest — continuously inhabited sites on Earth.

The stories coming from this region these days are primarily ones of destruction and war. But here, in the Citadel, there's a different narrative, that of a plan to rebuild, restore and revitalize this ancient site. For now, there's no commerce here. The public is no longer allowed in — just teams digging to put in water and electricity.

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ISIS smashes priceless, ancient statues in Iraq

A.R. Williams writes for National Geographic:

Islamic State militants released a video on Thursday showing the destruction of priceless antiquities in northern Iraq. Running for more than five minutes, the video records men toppling statues in a museum and smashing them with sledgehammers, and attacking other statues at an archaeological site with a jackhammer. Likened to the 2001 demolition of the colossal Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, this latest rampage against the cultural heritage of the Middle East has sparked outrage and concern around the world.

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U.S. suspects accused of sending military supplies to terrorists in Syria, Iraq

Faith Karimi reports for CNN:

Six suspects linked to terrorist activity referred to Syria and Iraq as "the beach," and used other coded language to avoid detection in the United States, authorities say. The Bosnian immigrants, including a husband and a wife, were arrested this month in Illinois and St. Louis, according to court records released Friday. Three of the suspects are naturalized American citizens.

A federal indictment alleges they communicated via social media and conspired to send money and military equipment to terrorists in Syria and Iraq. They allegedly shipped firearms accessories, military uniforms and combat boots through intermediaries in Turkey. Suspects named in the indictment are Nihad Rosic, Armin Harcevic and married couple Ramiz and Sedina Hodzic, all from St. Louis, along with Illinois residents Mediha Salkicevic and Jasminka Ramic.

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