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

Iraq president calls for direct talks between Baghdad and Erbil

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

The president of Iraq on Thursday called for direct talks between Erbil and Baghdad to settle their longstanding disputes on the basis of the constitution.

Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, increased after the autonomous region held a vote on Kurdish independence in September that overwhelmingly backed secession from the rest of Iraq. The Iraqi government responded by halting all international flights in and out of Kurdistan and sending troops to retake disputed areas held by Kurdish forces outside of the autonomous region, leaving Erbil grappling with an economic and political crisis.

Iraqi president Fuad Masoum held talks with two of his deputies, Nouri Al Maliki and Ayad Allawi, in Baghdad on Thursday to discuss the political and security situation in the country. The politicians debated Iraq’s upcoming elections, the federal budget law and the situation in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a statement said. Kirkuk was one of the disputed areas retaken from Kurdish forces by Baghdad following the September referendum.

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Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary chief seeks to put troops under national army

Reuters reports:

The commander of Iraq’s biggest Shi‘ite Muslim paramilitary group told its fighters on Thursday to take their orders from the national military and cut their ties with the group’s political wing.

Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, also called on the group’s fighters to withdraw from the cities under their control.

The move paves the way for Amiri to stand in parliamentary elections on May 12.

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For captured ISIS fighters in Iraq, justice is swift and conviction certain

Ash Gallagher writes for Yahoo News:

“Haya-al-Adel,” 20-year-old Hamza Ali Salim declared, an Arabic phrase for “Long live justice,” after he was handed a sentence of only 15 years in prison.

Salim was accused of illegally training with the Islamic State, preaching falsely at a mosque and persuading people to fight against the Iraqi army.

Now that the Iraqi government has declared the end of ISIS in Iraq following the recapture of western Anbar province, along the Syrian border, trials for ISIS militants and suspected members have begun.

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US military official: 50 ISIS foreign fighters captured since November

Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr write for CNN:

Approximately 50 foreign ISIS fighters have been captured in Syria and Iraq since the start of November, a US military official told CNN on Tuesday.

The official added that some of the fighters were captured as they were attempting to hide in civilian vehicles and were discovered by either the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces or Iraqi Security Forces.
The ISIS operatives came from several countries in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia, the official said.

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Iraq PM warns Islamic State might erupt again somewhere else

AP reports:

Three days after declaring victory over the Islamic State group, Iraq's prime minister warns that the group's extremists might "erupt again somewhere else" without international cooperation in combatting the militants.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told reporters Tuesday that "we have managed to break them" in Iraq, but added that it's a worry for everyone that IS has "this unfortunate ability to recruit young people very quickly."

He said there must be an effort to "remove their grassroots in the region."

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As climate threats grow, Iraq battles a new enemy: Water shortages

Laurie Goering writes for Reuters:

After years battling Islamic State militants, Iraqi farmers – many of them military volunteers – are now returning to their homes and fields only to find a new threat: a shortage of water.

Construction of dams and other water-holding facilities in upstream Turkey and Iran, combined with increasingly erratic rainfall across the region, mean the amount of water flowing in key Iraqi rivers has fallen by at least 40 percent in recent decades, said Hassan Janabi, the country’s water resources minister.

Damage to Iraq’s own dams and other infrastructure from years of fighting - and from a recent earthquake - also is making water supplies more irregular, he said.

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KRG to prioritize salaries in 2018 budget

Rudaw reports:

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) plans to prioritize salaries and basic services in its budget for the first half of next year after its revenues took a hit with the loss of Kirkuk oil fields in October.
Two financial reports were put to the Council of Ministers.
Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami outlined expected oil revenues and expenses for the first six months of 2018, according to a government statement that did not provide figures.

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American diplomat: US looks to counter Iran in post-war Iraq

Susannah George writes for AP:

As Iraq emerges from three years of war with the Islamic State group, the U.S. is looking to roll back the influence of neighboring Iran and help the central government resolve its dispute with the Kurdish region, the American envoy to the country told The Associated Press.

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman took up his post in Baghdad in September 2016, just weeks before the start of the operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. With IS now driven out of all the territory it once held and Iraq's declaration that the war against the extremists is over, he says Washington is focused on keeping the peace and rebuilding, and sees Iran's influence as a problem.

"Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors," Silliman said. "The Iranians have — to some extent — assisted the government of Iraq in defeating ISIS," he said, using an alternative acronym for IS. "But frankly I have not seen the Iranians donating money for humanitarian assistance, I have not seen them contributing to the U.N. stabilization program."

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How ISIS Produced Its Cruel Arsenal on an Industrial Scale

John Ismay, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, and C. J. Chivers write for The New York Times:

Late this spring, Iraqi forces fighting the Islamic State in Mosul discovered three unfired rocket-propelled grenades with an unusual feature — a heavy liquid sloshing inside their warheads. Tests later found that the warheads contained a crude blister agent resembling sulfur mustard, a banned chemical weapon intended to burn a victim’s skin and respiratory tract.

The improvised chemical rockets were the latest in a procession of weapons developed by the Islamic State during a jihadist arms-manufacturing spree without recent analogue.

Irregular fighting forces, with limited access to global arms markets, routinely manufacture their own weapons. But the Islamic State took the practice to new levels, with outputs “unlike anything we’ve ever seen” from a nonstate force, said Solomon H. Black, a State Department official who tracks and analyzes weapons.

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Iraq’s top Shiite cleric orders fighters to disarm after defeat of ISIL

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric on Monday ordered his fighters to hand state-issued weapons back to the government following the country’s defeat of ISIL.

Moqtada Al Sadr’s fighters, Saraya Al Salam, or Peace Brigades, took up arms against the extremist group in 2014 after the fall of Mosul and are officially part of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as Hashed Al Shaabi.

In a televised statement, Mr Al Sadr called on his fighters to also hand over parts of the territory they control to Iraq’s security forces. He maintained, however, that his fighters would remain present as protectors of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

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