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

Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric hints at renewed opposition to Maliki return

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Iraq’s powerful top Shi’ite cleric suggested on Friday that he had not abandoned his opposition to ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is bidding to return to power in elections on May 12.

Making a rare intervention in politics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani used his weekly sermon to tell Iraqis they should “avoid falling into the trap of those ... who are corrupt and those who have failed, whether they have been tried or not”.

Sistani, whose opinion is sacrosanct for millions in Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and beyond, said he was keeping an “equal distance” from all candidates and did not identify any of them by name in his sermon, read by one of his envoys, Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, and broadcast on television.

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Dispirited Kurds shy away from Iraqi elections in Kirkuk

Ali Choukeir writes for AFP:

In the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk it is hard to find posters of Kurdish candidates for Iraq's upcoming elections, but the campaigns of other hopefuls are in full swing.

The past seven months have seen a dramatic turn of events in Kirkuk, the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan" where hopes of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan were dashed after Baghdad retaliated against a referendum held in September.

In the Kurdish neighbourhood of Rahim Awa, home to the polling station that received the largest number of votes in the referendum, passers-by prefer not to discuss the return to the polls.

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These Iraqi Farmers Said No to ISIS. When Night Came They Paid the Price.

Margaret Coker and Falih Hassan write for The New York Times:

Islamic State militants dressed in Iraqi military uniforms launched a brazen nighttime attack in a farming hamlet close to Baghdad, killing 21 members of a local tribe that has been a vocal opponent of the extremists, security officials and residents said Wednesday.

The hourlong gun battle late Tuesday in this rural area approximately 25 miles north of the capital threatens growing optimism among both Iraqi officials and the international coalition fighting the Islamic State that Iraqis are gaining momentum in their efforts to stabilize cities and communities devastated by violence.

Although Iraqi forces are still engaged in mopping-up operations to rid pockets of the country of sleeper cells, terrorist attacks and civilian deaths have dropped sharply since the government declared victory over the Islamic State in December. In April, 68 Iraqi civilians were killed in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict, according to the United Nations, continuing a steep decline of violence in a country once plagued by almost daily suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

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In Baghdad, a sense of home resurfaces a decade after ethnic cleansing

Scott Peterson writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

Aziz Ali Hassan will never forget the graffiti warning that appeared on his family home at the peak of Iraq’s sectarian war in late 2006, when Baghdad’s mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods were gripped by brutal ethnic cleansing.

Sunni militants linked to Al Qaeda had taken over the western Baghdad district of Al-Adel, forcing out Shiite families like Mr. Hassan’s.

Decades of living peacefully together – built on a sense of home and sanctuary, amid a tradition here of mutual reliance and neighborly care – was disintegrating before his eyes.

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In Mosul’s ruins, Iraq election candidates vow bright future

Mohammad Salim writes for AFP:

Election posters plastered on the bullet-riddled wall of a girls' school in the Old City of Iraq's Mosul pledge a better future for those casting their ballot at a nationwide vote.

But the scenes of devastation that surround them almost 10 months after the Islamic State group (IS) was forced from the country's second city belie the hopeful claims.

Despite this backdrop of devastation, candidates are trying their hardest to drum up support.

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Iraq’s Maliki poses as Shi’ite champion in race for top job

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fulfilled his life-long goal of wresting power from the country’s minority Sunnis after the fall of Saddam Hussein but his drive to entrench Shi’ite dominance proved his downfall.

Blamed for the widespread corruption and divisive policies that contributed to the collapse of the Iraqi military and the rise of Islamic State, Maliki lost the premiership to fellow Dawa Party member Haider al-Abadi after a 2014 election.

Now, after four years sidelined as one of three largely ceremonial vice-presidents, Maliki is taking on Abadi in a May 12 election in a bid to win a third term as prime minister, and is posing again as Iraq’s Shi’ite champion.

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Iraq communists march on May Day, confident ahead of polls

AFP reports:

Carrying red flags and posters of Karl Marx, hundreds of Iraqi communists marched Tuesday in Baghdad for May Day, convinced their joint list with Shiite leader Muqtada Sadr can win this month’s election.

In a joyful procession, demonstrators also waved the blue flags of their electoral list and chanted slogans like “Listen to the will of the people: reform and the end of corruption” and “The workers are the spearhead of the country”.

For the first time in Iraq’s history Shiite clerics have allied with the hammer and sickle of secular communists in a joint list for the May 12 parliamentary polls.

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Hobby Lobby’s Smuggled Artifacts Will Be Returned To Iraq

Sasha Ingber reports for NPR:

Nearly 4,000 ill-gotten artifacts will be returned to Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says. The ancient objects were bought by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, then smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law.

The Oklahoma-based chain of retail stores bought more than 5,500 objects from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel in 2010, said the Department of Justice in a July 2017 document. The purchase was made months after the company was advised by an expert to use caution.

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Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni Divide Eases

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

The highway to this western Iraqi city, long synonymous with Sunni resistance against Iraq’s Shiite-led government, now showcases signs the sectarian tensions that have ravaged the country for 15 years are ebbing.

The road to Fallujah is lined with posters promoting Sunni candidates as part of Shiite-dominated coalitions for this month’s national election. Many of the same politicians who stirred up animosity now speak of unity, as they court voters fed up with years of sectarian politics that culminated in Islamic State’s takeover of a third of the country.

“We are really exhausted and don’t care who rules us, as long as we can lead a normal life,” said 23-year-old Fallujah shop owner Muhammad Saoud.

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Iraq to use new electronic system in May elections

Sinan Salaheddin reports for AP:

Iraq plans to use a new electronic system in next month’s national elections that will limit fraud and allow for the announcement of results within hours of polls closing, the election commission said Monday.

The Independent High Electoral Commission said that 60,000 devices will be distributed nationwide to send voting data via satellite. Employees have tested the system and found it to be as reliable as hand-counting, the commission said.

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