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

Why are Iraq’s paramilitaries turning on their own ranks?

Renad Mansour writes for The Washington Post:

Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and longtime paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.

The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: The paramilitary groups that fought together against the Islamic State are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power and the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-Islamic State Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.

Click here for the entire story

Meet the truffle-hunters of Baghdad

Chloe Cornish writes for Financial Times:

Night falls and men in long tunics line a road heading west. Illuminated by car headlights, they sell what look like piles of muddy rocks. Welcome to Baghdad, where February is desert truffle season.

My first taste of this delicacy is with a Baghdad provincial council member. As Nouri Jassim, a Sufi, enumerates the province’s failings just as he counts prayer beads — electricity, sewage, housing shortage, corruption, unemployment — I tuck into boiled truffle slices. A little gritty with fine sand, they are nonetheless delicious.

Their pursuit can be dangerous. Truffle-hunters sometimes stumble into areas littered with mines from Iraq’s more than three decades of war. Three brothers collecting truffles in the mountains north of Baghdad were reportedly kidnapped and killed this month in a suspected Isis attack.

Click here for the entire story

In heart of Baghdad, IS war museum honors fallen militiamen

Zeina Karam and Qassim Abdul-Zahra write for AP:

A few steps from Baghdad's cultural heart and its famous book market on al-Mutanabi Street lies the Iraqi capital's latest tourist attraction: a war museum glorifying the sacrifices of thousands of mainly Shiite militiamen who died fighting the Islamic State group.

The museum is meant to honor the fallen but it also underscores the Iran-backed militias' growing clout in the country. Their political and military might soared after they helped the government defeat IS — so much so that they are now accused by some of seeking to build a parallel state within Iraq.

Click here for the entire story

Trump’s Iraq Strategy Is Foolish

Michael Wahid Hanna and Thanassis Cambanis write for Foreign Affairs:

U.S. troops are on their way out of Syria. In Afghanistan, a similar drawdown, perhaps even a permanent exit, is in the offing as peace talks with the Taliban continue. On February 2, U.S. President Donald Trump turned his attention to a third crucible of conflict in the region: Iraq.

This time, however, rather than talk of a drawdown, Trump argued in an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq—not just to continue to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS, but to “watch Iran.” U.S. bases in Iraq, Trump suggested, would serve as outposts for monitoring Tehran’s activities relating to “nuclear weapons or other things.”

Trump’s comments are reckless. They reflect a misguided obsession with Iran and portray Iraq as little more than a pawn in the United States’ Iran policy. Such rhetoric is poison for Washington’s relationship with Baghdad—one of the last remaining anchors for U.S. influence in a region littered with dysfunctional and counterproductive partnerships.

Click here for the entire story

UN envoy calls for end to political infighting in Iraq

Edith M. Lederer writes for AP:

The new U.N. envoy for Iraq called Wednesday for an end to political infighting so the formation of a government can be completed, warning that further delay could lead to "significant repercussions" on the country's stability.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council that the Iraqi people "are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate" at a time when it is critical to meet their demands for better services, with water and electricity at the top of the list.

Click here for the entire story

Undefeated, ISIS Is Back in Iraq

Aziz Ahmad writes for The New York Review of Books:

Inside a prison in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, vanquished Islamic State fighters who once swept through much of the country now mill about sullenly on a bare, tiled floor, reflecting on a cause they insist will endure. Many spend hours in fierce debate, apparently undeterred by their movement’s apparent military defeat. Their cause, they say, remains divinely ordained. Their capture incidental. “Hathi iradet Allah,” they say. This is God’s will.

Kurdish guard called for a captive, whom I will call Abu Samya—a brooding Baghdad resident kidnapped first by the Islamic State’s forerunner group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later by Shia death squads as sectarian lines hardened in 2006–2007. As he walked toward the guard, some fellow captives condemned him as “khain,” or traitor. Outside the walls, long before the caliphate crumbled, that charge carried a death penalty. The jaded jihadist shrugged it off.

After a curt introduction, the thin man leaned across the table, eyeballing me. “There is no life left for me,” he said, in a tone of resignation that seemed briefly to disguise the unmistakable sense of anger years in the making“Ask me anything.”

Click here for the entire story

PM says Iraq to repatriate Iraqi IS fighters held in Syria

Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP:

Iraq will repatriate Iraqi members of the Islamic State group held by U.S.-backed fighters in Syria as well as thousands of their family members, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said.

Abdul-Mahdi told reporters late Tuesday that families of those fighters will also be brought back and that tent settlements will be prepared to host them. Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came after a meeting he held in Baghdad with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said up to 20,000 Iraqis, including IS fighters, their families and refugees will be brought back home by April where many of them will live in a tent settlement in western Anbar province.

Click here for the entire story

Iran-backed groups corner Iraq’s postwar scrap metal market – sources

John Davison writes for Reuters:

The wrecks of vehicles used by Islamic State militants as car bombs and other metal debris left by the war in Iraq are now helping fund their Iran-backed enemies, industry sources say.

Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries that helped Iraqi forces drive the Sunni IS out of its last strongholds in Iraq have taken control of the thriving trade in scrap metal retrieved from the battlefield, according to scrap dealers and others familiar with the trade.

Scrapyard owners, steel plant managers and legislators from around the city of Mosul, the de facto IS capital from 2014 to 2017, described to Reuters how the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have made millions of dollars from the sale of anything from wrecked cars and damaged weapons to water tanks and window frames.

Click here for the entire story

In Iraq, Iran-affiliated militias that helped rout Islamic State wield growing clout

Nabih Bulos writes for Los Angeles Times:

In 2014, as Islamic State militants were seizing large chunks of Iraqi territory and advancing toward Baghdad, hundreds of thousands of volunteers rose to the capital's defense. They joined the Shiite-dominated militias known in Arabic as the Hashd al Shaabi.

That campaign all but ended last year with the defeat of Islamic State, but the Hashd is not demobilizing.

Instead, the militias have transformed themselves into a potent government institution, political entity and economic player whose strong ties to Iran are likely to complicate U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Click here for the entire story

The Kurdish Awakening

Henri J. Barkey writes for Foreign Affairs:

Details about the U.S. withdrawal from Syria remain sketchy. But whatever Washington ultimately decides to do, Trump’s announcement marked a cruel turn for Kurds across the Middle East. Back in mid-2017, the Kurds had been enjoying a renaissance. Syrian Kurds, allied with the world’s only superpower, had played the central role in largely defeating ISIS on the battlefield and had seized the group’s capital, Raqqa. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia, controlled large swaths of Syrian territory and looked set to become a significant actor in negotiations to end the country’s civil war. Turkish Kurds, although besieged at home, were basking in the glow of the accomplishments of their Syrian counterparts, with whom they are closely aligned. And in Iraq, the body that rules the country’s Kurdish region—the Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG—was at the height of its powers, preparing for a September 2017 referendum on independence.

By the end of 2018, many of the Kurds’ dreams appeared to be in tatters. After the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in the KRG’s referendum, the Iraqi government, backed by Iran and Turkey, invaded Iraqi Kurdistan and conquered some 40 percent of its territory. Overnight, the KRG lost not only nearly half of its land but much of its international influence, too. The Turkish Kurds, despite gaining seats in parliament in the June 2018 elections, had endured relentless assaults from Erdogan and his government throughout the year, including a renewed military campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a left-wing separatist group. In Syria, Turkey invaded the Kurdish-controlled town of Afrin in March 2018, displacing the YPG and some 200,000 local Kurds. Then, in December, the Syrian Kurds learned that their American protectors might soon abandon them altogether.

These setbacks, however, belie a larger trend—one that will shape the Middle East in the years ahead. Across the region, Kurds are gaining self-confidence, pushing for long-denied rights, and, most important, collaborating with one another across national boundaries and throughout the diaspora. To a greater extent than at any previous point in history, Kurds in the four traditionally distinct parts of Kurdistan—in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—are starting down the road of becoming a single Kurdish nation. Significant barriers to unity remain, including linguistic divisions and the presence of at least two strong states, Iran and Turkey, with an overriding interest in thwarting any form of pan-Kurdism. Yet recent events have initiated a process of Kurdish nation building that will, in the long run, prove difficult to contain. Even if there is never a single, unified, independent Kurdistan, the Kurdish national awakening has begun. The Middle East’s states may fear the Kurdish awakening, but it is beyond their power to stop it.

Click here for the entire story