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

Iraq Struggles to Exhume and Identify Slaughtered Victims of Islamic State

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

Bone by bone, workers at the Baghdad morgue are piecing together the victims of Islamic State, a gruesome jigsaw puzzle that has overwhelmed Iraqi authorities and delayed a sense of closure for families of the missing.

After decades of conflict, culminating in Islamic State’s brutal three-year reign over the country’s north, Iraq has one of the highest number of missing people—and unidentified bodies—anywhere. Yet only 25 people in the country have been trained in scientific exhumation techniques, and the morgue attached to the single Baghdad laboratory equipped to conduct DNA tests is running out of space to store remains. Those limited resources have been further strained by the economic crisis curbing Iraq’s budget.

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Iraqi ex-soldiers make miniature models to stay in touch with army days

Reuters reports:

A small group of Iraqis including a soldier who fought in the civil war have turned to model making to deal with their memories of conflict and maintain touch with the military phase of their lives.

It’s an unusual hobby but former soldier Radhwan al-Hassnawi, 28, says he wants to pay tribute to his comrades through the models, which are called dioramas.

His dioramas depict military scenes from the war that began in 2003 when a coalition led by the United States invaded to topple Saddam Hussein. It drew in Sunni and Shia militias and al Qaeda and became a sectarian and political struggle in which hundreds of thousands died and all sides committed atrocities.

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Iraqi elections to test Saudi rapprochement

Arwa Ibrahim writes for Al Jazeera:

Saudi Arabia's courting of Iraq's Shia religious and political leaders over the past year has marked a clear shift in Riyadh's policies towards Baghdad. But this rapprochement can go in one of two directions, according to analysts.

Riyadh's efforts to engage Shia allies in Iraq could either defuse sectarianism across the country, or it could turn Iraq into another stage for Iranian-Saudi rivalries.

With politicians taking part in Iraq's parliamentary elections in May hoping to form diverse, cross-sectarian coalitions, the vote stands to test whether Riyadh's moves in Baghdad will gain enduring favour.

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Ahead Of Iraq’s Elections, Muqtada Al-Sadr Reinvents Himself — Again

Jane Arraf writes for NPR:

In 2003, as U.S. forces entered Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr was a young Shiite Muslim cleric, little known to the American troops who toppled Saddam Hussein and ushered in a tumultuous new Iraq.

As liberation turned into occupation, Sadr, the son of a revered grand ayatollah killed for opposing Saddam, compiled a militia that presented such a serious challenge to American forces, the U.S. vowed to kill or capture him.

That was the old Muqtada al-Sadr — responding to the needs of the times, his loyalists say. Fifteen years later, Sadr, now 44, has taken another dramatic turn — reaching out to powerful Sunni Muslim countries, distancing himself from Iran and effectively burning down his own political movement.

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Iraq scouts make comeback in former extremist bastion Mosul

AFP reports:

Scouts are making a symbolic comeback in Mosul after a three-year absence from the city that used to serve as the Daesh terrorist group’s capital in Iraq.

With white shirts and neckerchiefs, more than 200 male and female scout leaders from across Iraq recently converged on the city that was devastated by three years of extremist rule and nine months of heavy urban warfare.

It was “a message to Iraq and the world: The scouts of Mosul and Iraq are back”, Mohammed Ibrahim, head of scout activities in Mosul, told AFP.

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Haider Al Abadi announces plan to wean Iraq off oil dependency

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq's government unveiled a five-year economic development plan to wean the country off its long-term dependence on oil and build its private sector.

During a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said the plan will aim to diversify the oil-reliant economy.

Baghdad depends on the oil sector for more than 90 per cent of its revenue.

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More Than Militias: Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Are Here To Stay

Renad Mansour writes for War on the Rocks:

Over the last several years, I have met with commanders and fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (al-hashd al-sha’abi, or PMF), an umbrella organization of some 50 paramilitary groups, to hear about their perspectives on the situation in Iraq. Last month, I re-visited a leader whom I hadn’t seen in some time. As I walked into the room, I noticed that he no longer wore army fatigues — instead, he was in a suit. He joked that things had changed, and he was now returning to politics.

He is not the only one. The PMF have become much more than a group of militias, now seeking to establish a legitimate institutional presence and play a role in politics and the economy, against the backdrop of a fragile Iraqi state that remains weak after the fall of ISIL.

A critical aspect of the state rebuilding process is reforming the security sector, which collapsed in 2014 when a few thousand fighters took over one-third of Iraq. During the 3-year fight against ISIL, a number of armed groups — united in opposition to a common enemy but not in command structure or vision — emerged in place of the struggling state armed forces. Although the Iraqi armed forces have since recovered, the state’s weakness has allowed many of these paramilitary groups continue to control territory in liberated areas from Mosul to Kirkuk.

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Baghdad sentences six Turkish ISIL widows to death

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq sentenced six Turkish women to death and a seventh to life in prison on Monday after being convicted on charges of terrorism, including providing support to ISIL operations.

Iraqi courts have been trying hundreds of detained women who lived with the insurgents during their three-year rule.

The women, accompanied by their young children, told the court that they had entered Iraq to join their ISIL husbands. They surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters after fleeing Tal Afar, one of the last ISIL bastions to fall to Iraqi security forces last year.

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Baghdad And Mosul Enjoy Peace As Da’ish Tends To Its Wounds

Haidar Sumeri writes for 1001 Iraqi Thoughts:

For the first time since the defeat of Da’ish, church bells tolled in northern Iraq last week to celebrate Easter. Palm Sunday saw large crowds turn out in Bakhdida district in a jubilant show of resilience that was reminiscent of the Easter processions held on the same streets before the northern offensive by Da’ish in 2014 and the subsequent occupation of much of Iraq’s north. The recuperation of communities decimated by the events of the last few years is under way and whilst the challenges facing the state are clear, the dauntingly bleak future many predicted for Iraq now seems rather vacuous. The latest numbers by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate a staggering 3,573,060 refugees have returned to their areas of origin following liberation at the hands of the Iraqi military.

All in all, Iraq is firmly on track to rehabilitate its security environment and continue to rebuild its military strength. However, robust contingency plans must be put in place to tackle the growing threat of a Da’ish insurgency, particularly in western Anbar and Kirkuk and a genuine push for alleviating post-referendum tensions must take place between Baghdad and Erbil as soon as possible so that a comprehensive security framework can be put in place for Kirkuk and other disputed areas.

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UK archaeologists help Iraqis restore their Isis-ravaged heritage

Peter Beaumont writes for The Guardian:

The world’s oldest-known bridge, an ancient Sumerian structure in Iraq, is to be used by the British Museum as a training site to teach two groups of female archaeologists the skills to restore the country’s Islamic State-ravaged heritage.

After a conflict that saw Isis jihadists destroy large parts of Iraq’s archaeological heritage – including the historic sites at Nimrud and Nineveh – the museum will in April begin a training programme for eight women from the Mosul area, most of whom have been living as refugees.

The training will be split between London and the Tello site in southern Iraq, near the city of Naseriyah and home to one of the world’s oldest civil engineering projects, the Sumerian bridge at the entrance to the 4,000-year-old city of Girsu, which is the focus of the project.

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