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

Risk of Double Trials for ISIS Ties

Human Rights Watch reports:

Sunni Arab boys who serve prison time in Iraq’s Kurdistan region for Islamic State (also known as ISIS) connections risk rearrest after their release if they try to reunite with their families in areas controlled by Baghdad, Human Rights Watch said today. The problem stems from a lack of coordination between the separate judicial systems of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government.

This situation currently only affects about two dozen boys who have been released after serving time on counterterrorism charges. But dozens more and hundreds of adults will soon be released from KRG prisons. The risk of rearrest means that they may not be able to return home and reintegrate into society. It may also clog up Iraq’s prisons and courts.

“The lack of coordination between Iraq’s two separate judicial systems has led to a risk of repeated prosecutions for the same crime,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Right now, the situation largely affects boys who have served shorter sentences, but as Erbil starts releasing adults who have finished their sentence, they will face the same problem.”

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In Ruins, the New Old City of Mosul

Victor J. Blue writes for Bloomberg:

The Old City of Mosul was the last redoubt for Islamic State fighters trying to hold onto the capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate in Iraq. The relentless U.S. and coalition air campaign that was waged to help dislodge them left the area almost completely destroyed. Now, more than a year after the fighting stopped, the city still lies in ruins.

The United Nations estimates that more than 8,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the Old City. The city was left with an estimated eight million tons of conflict debris. The U.S.-led coalition conducted around 2,500 airstrikes on the city of Mosul during the campaign, with as many as 600 munitions dropped per week. In January and February 2017 alone, the coalition released more than 7,000 bombs over Mosul.

But there has been precious little effort to rebuild the city. Residents complain of inattention and corruption from Iraqi officials. Foreign nongovernmental organizations have made little headway. Residents live in damaged or destroyed homes and try to scrape together money for repairs. While thousands remain displaced in camps, some Old City residents have made their way back to try to build lives amid the destruction. They reopen businesses, try to rebuild, or scavenge for scrap among destroyed buildings. Some structures had stood for more than 700 years before the relentless fighting brought them down, and it’s unclear how much of the Old City will ever return.

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Winter comes to Iraq’s IDP camps as aid moves out

A.C. Robinson writes for Rudaw:

With the drop in temperatures many internally displaced persons (IDPs) are bracing for winter. But much needed aid, such as kerosene oil essential for heating and cooking, is in short supply compared to previous years.

"The only side providing winterization is the UNHCR," Ahmad Salah, camp manager for Harsham IDP camp located on the northern outskirts of Erbil told Rudaw English, referring to the United Nation’s refugee agency.

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Kids in Iraq camps dream big, but they can’t enroll in school

AFP reports:

Maareb has big dreams, but she may never get to realize them. Every day, when her friends attend class in the Iraqi displacement camp they call home, she stays behind.

The makeshift primary school in the dusty Hammam al-Alil 2 camp in Iraq’s north opened earlier this year, but several thousand displaced children are unable to access it.

“I want to go to school with my friends, but I’m not allowed because I don’t have an ID,” says the seven-year-old, her plaited hair dangling down her back.

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Drones for Dinars, not Dollars

Arin Kumar Ghosh writes for Small Wars Journal:

After a string of alarming defeats to ISIS in 2014, the Iraqi Armed Forces rebounded to ultimately evict ISIS from Iraq by the end of 2017. The military ballooned to 2 million serving as Iraq finally got a much deserved rest after shattering the dreams of ISIS, or so they thought. Iraq continues to be at risk of every political disease a nation can be infected with: terrorism, militancy, sectarianism, and a slew of other issues. Outstanding political issues with post-ISIS emerging terrorist organizations, the Kurds to the north, coupled with an uneasy arrangement with Iran in the post, non-ISIS threat centric region, beckon Iraq not to repeat the same steps which allowed ISIS to gain so much ground in the first place.

One of the key umbrellas that shields all the political plagues that could topple a future Baghdad administration lies in its future counter insurgency (COIN) planning. Part of Iraq’s COIN strategy has more recently been to conduct F-16 airstrikes against Daesh positions, including in neighboring Syria as Iraq tries to insulate against sub state existential threats – but this strategy will not prevent the inevitable. The real threat to Iraq’s future stability is from inside its borders. In this struggle, the ability of the armed forces will be tested to contain a future rise of ISIS type elements or the rise of organized sectarian enemies.

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Iraq’s Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge

Ben Taub writes for The New Yorker:

For three years, the Islamic State controlled half of Syria and a third of Iraq, a swath of territory approximately the size of Great Britain, which included millions of people. Several members of its senior leadership had been high-level military and intelligence officers in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime; they combined the structural prowess of a police state with the cosmic certainty of radical jihadism. The group blew up mosques and ancient archeological sites, and pursued a campaign of ethnic cleansing through mass murder and sexual slavery. It conscripted local bureaucrats, doctors, and teachers, often on pain of death, and devoted enormous effort to radicalizing a generation of children and inuring them to violence, suffering, and loss. At the height of its success, in 2014, there was a real possibility that ISIS would capture Baghdad, and the Iraqi state would collapse. Now, more than a year after ISIS lost Mosul—its largest source of legitimacy, wealth, and power—hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering at the hands of their liberators. Anyone with a perceived connection to ISIS, however tenuous or unclear, is being killed or cast out of society.

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On Iraq’s border with Syria, Iran-backed militia warily eye U.S. forces

John Davison writes for Reuters:

From a desert hillside guarded by Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitaries, commander Qasim Muslih can spot Islamic State hideouts across the frontier in Syria. But he also keeps a wary eye on U.S. warplanes soaring overhead.

“The Americans are spying on us,” he said, squinting skywards. “But we can hold the borders. We’ll fight whoever lays a finger on Iraq and its holy shrines.”

The fighters Muslih commands are part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of mostly Shi’ite militias backed by Iran, which the United States regards as the biggest threat to security in the Middle East.

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Baghdad’s Green Zone reopens: ‘The politicians inside are sleeping on money’

Simona Foltyn writes for The Guardian:

Kareem Talal twice helped to bring down the concrete walls surrounding Baghdad’s Green Zone.

In 2016 he was among thousands of angry protesters loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr who broke into the fortified enclave that houses government institutions and foreign embassies.

And in a recent – and this time legitimate – effort to dismantle the barriers, Talal was part of a team of municipality workers who removed concrete blocks in the lead-up to the partial reopening of the central district last Monday.

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Iraq begins rebuilding of Mosul’s Al Nuri Mosque

The National reports:

Iraq began rebuilding Mosul’s Al Nuri Mosque on Sunday, laying the cornerstone of a UAE-funded project to restore the national treasure destroyed by ISIS last year.

The twelfth century mosque and its famous leaning minaret – nicknamed Al Hadba or “the hunchback”– adorns Iraq’s 10,000 dinar note. It gained international notoriety in 2014 as the location where Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi declared his ISIS “caliphate”.

In June 2017, as Iraqi security forces advanced to within 50 metres of the mosque in the closing days of the battle for Mosul, ISIS destroyed it. Reluctant to suffer a symbolic defeat by withdrawing, ISIS fighters demolished the building with explosives and attempted to blame the destruction on coalition air strikes.

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Ahmad Chalabi and the Great Man Theory of History

Richard Hanania writes for War on the Rocks:

Last month was the third anniversary of the death of Ahmad Chalabi. It came only a few days after what was the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Iraq Liberation Act, which passed with a vote of 360 to 38 in the House of Representatives and by unanimous consent in the Senate. This bill was unlike any other act of Congress in American history. Usually, even when openly hostile towards a regime, the United States maintains an ambiguous position on regime change. But now, without declaring war, the president was given the authority to select “Iraqi democratic opposition organizations” to receive up to $97 million of American assistance to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

While other Western countries sought an easing of sanctions against Saddam, the United States never did, although it is difficult to know whether this was in part because of the Iraq Liberation Act itself or simply due to of the state of elite American opinion. Nonetheless, the Iraq Liberation Act basically made political rapprochement with Saddam Hussein impossible and turned him into a permanent enemy of the United States. After 9/11, when members of the Bush administration were convinced that the attacks of that day required a muscular response against terrorists and their supporters, they turned their focus to Iraq.

How did elite American opinion become so unified about Saddam Hussein? Surely it was in part because of his own behavior, including massive human rights violations. Yet other Western democracies took a softer stance and, indeed, even the United States takes less stark position when it comes to other autocracies with atrocious human rights records such as China. Even after Saddam invaded Kuwait, Americans generally supported President George H.W. Bush when he decided not to march to Baghdad, as demonstrated by his sky-high approval ratings at the time. What changed between 1991 and 1998, hardening Washington’s position and making Saddam such an appealing target for American leaders after 9/11? And what can Chalabi and the Iraq Liberation Act teach us about regime change and American attempts to remake Middle Eastern societies more generally?

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