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

Playing The Long Game In Iraq

Perry Cammack and Daniel Benaim write for War on the Rocks:

Perhaps no other country faces a greater exposure to competition between Iran and the United States than Iraq. So far, inside Iraq, the Trump administration has sensibly prioritized counterterrorism partnership against ISIL over its broader policy of competition with Iran. But a pair of recent developments may test that approach.

Between these bad options — confronting Iran inside Iraq and walking away — lies a third: the long game. It requires accepting that Iraq will continue to uncomfortably straddle America and Iran. Since the 2003 invasion, American policy has whiplashed between surging troops in and pulling troops out. It is time to construct a more durable bilateral relationship that sees Iraq as a partner, rather than a client. That demands constructive engagement in support of Iraq’s fragile but stabilizing sovereignty. It entails support for compromise and pragmatism during Iraq’s difficult government formation process and promotion of Iraq’s continued regional integration. It means defining a sustainable, more restrained security cooperation paradigm in the wake of the defeat of ISIL. Such an approach is more carrot than stick. But it will also require articulation of viable redlines, for example if U.S.-supplied advanced weaponry leaks to militias or sectarianism once again goes off the rails. A more confident, more stable Iraq will be more resilient against both home-grown Sunni extremism and Iranian interference, and could yet play a productive role in a region riven with conflict.

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The End of the Iran Deal Could Destabilize Iraq

James Fromson and Steven Simon write for Foreign Affairs:

On Sunday, Iraq held its first round of parliamentary elections since the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS). In a surprising result, the main victor was the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Sairoon Alliance, a coalition between Sadr’s own party and the Iraqi Communist Party, defeated coalitions led by the incumbent prime minister and U.S. favorite, Haider al-Abadi (who finished third), and the Iranian-backed Hadi al-Ameri (who finished second).

Sadr’s victory comes as a relief to neither Iran nor the United States, both of which Sadr targeted in his populist electoral campaign, which promised, like that of every other party, to rid the country of corruption and foreign influence. Iran’s ally, Ameri, came in second, but his party is short on allies with which to form a government. And Abadi’s unexpectedly poor third-place finish was a disappointment to Washington, although there is still a chance that he will join with Sadr in the government formation process and even stay on as prime minister.

For the United States, there is reason for cautious optimism in these results. The new prime minister, whoever that turns out to be, is unlikely to be an Iranian puppet, even if he looks to Iran as an ally. The election, moreover, was fought not along sectarian lines—Sadr’s coalition included some Sunnis as well as his own Shiite base—but on issues such as corruption, and it came at a time when the Iraqi state (or at least parts of it, such as the army) is enjoying broad legitimacy for the first time in years.

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Marriage a distant dream for many in Iraq’s Mosul

AFP reports:

Khulud yearns to be swept away by a “prince charming”, but like many young Iraqis in the former militant stronghold of Mosul she worries she may never marry.

“I haven’t found a husband or a job — my life consists of household chores,” says the 24-year-old university graduate, who feels increasingly trapped in her parents’ home.

Before Daesh made Mosul its self-proclaimed capital in mid-2014, Iraq’s second city was a bastion of traditionalism and conservatism. It was rare for women to hit their 20s before marrying or being engaged.

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Questions Mount About Possible Fraud in Iraq Vote

Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan write for The Wall Street Journal:

The United Nations and Iraqi political leaders on Thursday called for investigating electoral-fraud complaints and sought manual recounts in some districts, as questions intensified about the legitimacy of the country’s recent parliamentary vote.

Overall, the recounts being sought aren’t expected to affect the surprising election results from Saturday, when Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s coalition won the most seats. But the fraud claims have delayed the official tally of the vote and deepened Iraqis mistrust in the electoral process, which saw turnout fall to its lowest level since the country became a democracy fifteen years ago.

Less than 45% of voters participated in the election, a low number considered a factor in Mr. Sadr’s victory because his largely poor, dedicated followers showed up when other politicians’ bases stayed home. Mr. Sadr’s militias had fought against the U.S. following the 2003 invasion and were accused of sectarian atrocities but he has forged a more mainstream path in recent years.

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Iraq cuts ties with US sanctioned bank

The National reports:

Iraq’s central bank on Thursday cut ties with an Iraqi bank and its director after they were targeted by new US sanctions against entities linked to Iran.

Local media reported that the Central Bank of Iraq ordered the country's financial institutions to cease dealing with Al-Bilad Islamic Bank for Investment and Finance, and its CEO Aras Habib Karim, after they were added to a US Treasury sanctions list on Tuesday.

Mr Karim is also Secretary General of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and ran in last week’s election allied with Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi’s Victory coalition. He spoke out after being added to the US sanctions list for allegedly helping provide support to designated terrorists, calling the designation politically motivated.

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Iraqis protest in Kirkuk over alleged voting fraud

Emad Matti reports for AP:

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside an election office in this northern Iraqi city Wednesday to protest alleged fraud in last week's parliamentary elections.

The head of Iraq's national election commission said at a news conference that armed men had taken over the election office and that the workers inside were "in effect, hostages," but local officials and witnesses disputed that account, saying there was no sign of weapons at what appeared to be a peaceful demonstration.

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The Man Who Could Shape Iraq’s Future

Krishnadev Calamur writes for The Atlantic:

Moqtada al-Sadr won’t be Iraq’s next prime minister, but he may very well decide who is. It’s a striking outcome for the Shia cleric who forged a reputation as a radical in the insurgency he led against the U.S. after the invasion of 2003, and who then defined himself as an Iraqi nationalist through his defiance of Iran. Over this period, Sadr has become an insider in Iraqi politics, but ahead of the country’s Saturday parliamentary elections he fashioned himself into an anti-corruption crusader and political outsider by building a coalition that includes communists, Sunnis, and political independents. His al-Sairoon Coalition (The Marchers) finished first in the vote, ensuring his relevance for years to come.

Al-Sairoon’s performance suggests that Iraq, which has only recently emerged from a brutal conflict against ISIS, might be tired of the political class that has governed the country since its first parliamentary elections in 2005. What’s not clear, however, is whether Sadr, whose brand is predicated on protest and opposition, can evolve into a constructive force in Iraqi politics.

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Sacked defence minister shrugs off corruption impeachment in election resurgence

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s ousted defence minister, who was controversially dismissed over corruption allegations, has made a roaring comeback in the country's elections.

Khalid Al Obeidi led Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's Victory alliance in Ninewa in Saturday's polls, winning eight out of the province's 31 seats in the 328 seat parliament, demonstrating the enduring support for Mosul’s military man.

On Monday, Mr Al Obeidi led a triumphant press conference to announce that the Victory alliance had won more seats than any other in Ninewa, although he cautioned the count was still preliminary.

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Iraqi Election Front-Runner Moktada al-Sadr Courts Partners to Govern

Margaret Coker writes for The New York Times:

The front-runner in Iraqi elections, the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, wasted little time trying to prove to potential allies that he is serious about shaking up the government and cleaning up corruption as he worked to cobble together a governing coalition.

His spokesman, Saleh al-Obeidi, said in an interview in Baghdad on Tuesday that Mr. Sadr’s movement is seeking allies who agree to its three-plank manifesto: ending the practice of awarding ministries on sectarian quotas, fighting corruption and allowing independent technocrats to manage key government agencies.

“Sai’id Moktada wants to bring Iraq out of crisis and out of misery,” Mr. Obeidi said, using an honorific. “We want to start a whole new way of doing things.”

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Iraq’s Abadi congratulates Sadr on election performance

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi telephoned Moqtada Al Sadr on Tuesday in what appeared to be a political concession after the Shiite cleric took the largest number of parliamentary seats in the country's weekend election.

Final results have been delayed amid allegations of vote rigging in northern Iraq, with some Kurdish parties demanding a re-run of the weekend's poll.

A statement from Mr Al Sadr’s office said the premier praised the cleric for helping foster “a secure, democratic atmosphere,” during the campaign and vote.

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