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

Iraq’s Shiites in no mood to embrace Iran

Liz Sly reports for The Washington Post:

When a senior Iranian cleric announced last month that he was planning to move to this holy Shiite city to open an office, the furor that erupted offered a glimpse into the future of a complicated relationship.

As American troops leave Iraq, Iran certainly ranks high among the beneficiaries of their nearly nine-year presence. As a Shiite power that suffered enormously during an eight-year war with a Sunni-dominated Iraq in the 1980s, Iran now can generally count on closer ties with a friendly Shiite government next door.

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Stolen royal plates returned to Iraq

Chris Boyette reports for CNN:

The U.S. Attorney's office has announced the return of 19 pieces of stolen plates and china once belonging to Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Kingdom's King Faisal II and the Royal Family to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Iraq to the United Nations.

According to New York authorities, the dishware was illegally imported into the United States and sold on Ebay.

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US battle flag no longer flying in Iraq

Julian E. Barnes and Nathan Hodge report for The Wall Street Journal:

After nearly nine years of war, tens of thousands of casualties—including 4,500 dead—and more than $800 billion spent, the U.S. military on Thursday formally ended its mission in Iraq and prepared to leave the country.

For years, commanders in Iraq have handed off to their successors the top call sign, Lion 6, along with the American battle flag adorned with a Mesopotamian sphinx. But on Thursday, in a tradition-drenched ceremony with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta looking on, the current Lion 6, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, pulled down the colors and cased them for a return to the U.S.

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Constitution suffers in regionalism debate

Reidar Visser writes in Iraq and Gulf Analysis:

We already have a pretty confused federalism debate in Iraq after the recent surge of interest in federalism among some Sunni local politicians. Both opponents and proponents of new federal regions are making up their own rules and are paying scant attention to the laws on the books.

Enter the concept of “disputed territories”. With emerging federalism projects in Diyala and longstanding Kurdish claims to portions of that governorate – notably Khanaqin – ever more complex situations seem to come on the agenda in Iraq. The Kurds now claim they have supported the federalism request in the governorate council on the provision that Khanaqin will be kept separate and will be annexed to the Kurdistan Regional Government.

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Air defense gap before F-16s

Nathan Hodge reports for The Wall Street Journal:

The White House is pointing to a proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Iraq as a sign of a deepening security partnership, though delivery of the aircraft is a few years away, and Iraq's fighter pilots are still learning to fly.

That means Iraq will be left with a gap in its defenses after the departure this month of the last U.S. forces stationed in the nation.

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Iraq museum pays smugglers

Arwa Damon reports for CNN:

Iraq's second largest museum in Sulaimaniya is recovering stolen artifacts by paying smugglers to return the treasures.

Located in the semi-autonomous northern region of Kurdistan, the Slemani Museum has taken drastic measures to refill display cabinets following looting.

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Maliki’s moves raise concerns

Jack Healy, Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt report for The New York Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has moved swiftly to consolidate power in advance of the American military withdrawal, offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s post-American identity may take shape, by rounding up hundreds of former Baath Party members and evicting Western companies from the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The actions also underscored the many lingering questions about America’s uncertain ally, a prime minister who once found refuge in Syria and Iran and who will now help write the epitaph to the American invasion.

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U.S.-Iraq relationship unclear

Laura Meckler reports for The Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began the work of defining a postwar relationship, meeting here Monday and pledging to cooperate on a range of military and civilian initiatives.

But as the final U.S. troops prepare to exit Iraq after a nine-year conflict, the full contours of the new U.S.-Iraq partnership aren't yet clear, either in the extent of future military cooperation or on other foreign policy questions in the region.

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Gulf Keystone’s new Shaikan results

Ian Lyall reports for Proactive Investors:

Gulf Keystone Petroleum chief operating officer John Gerstenlauer has described as “very promising” initial results from the company’s fourth well on the Shaikan field in Kurdistan.

Having been drilled to a total depth of 3,387 metres it has uncovered what potentially are two new, reservoirs in the Sargelu sands and Barsarin carbonates.

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Iranian cleric to challenge Sistani

Scott Peterson reports for The Christian Science Monitor:

As American forces complete their withdrawal from Iraq in coming days, concern has grown in Washington that neighboring Iran is determined to fill any "vacuum" with its own influence.

Iraqi officials have long dismissed that scenario as overblown. But an attempt by Tehran to install a top-ranking cleric in one of Iraq's holiest cities – thereby exercising far greater influence over Iraq's religious and political life – has prompted warnings of an "Iran project" to boldly increase leverage with its neighbor.

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