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

ISIL sleeper cells mounting attacks in northern Iraq

Mohammed Rasool and Campbell MacDiarmid write for The National:

ISIL has carried out a series of deadly attacks in northern Iraq that are being attributed to the group's use of sleeper cells in an offensive that could disrupt the country's upcoming elections.

The violence - at least 25 civilians and government fighters have been killed since Sunday - has been centred around Kirkuk province, with the insurgents boldly established checkpoints on the main road to Baghdad.

The uptick in attacks indicate that despite no longer controlling large swathes of territory, ISIL is far from a spent force in Iraq, undermining the government's claim that the group has been defeated.

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Mattis Accuses Iran of Using Money to Sway Iraq’s Elections

AP reports:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday accused Iran of funneling money into Iraq to sway the outcome of its elections in May, calling it part of a broader pattern of destabilizing Iranian actions across the Middle East.

Mr. Mattis declined to say what outcome Iran was aiming for in Iraq, but he said it was sending “not an insignificant amount of money” to the country to sway votes. He mentioned no dollar amounts.

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Blood, bullets and contraband vodka: female artists on life in Baghdad after the US invasion

Bidisha writes for The Guardian:

Irada al-Jabbouri remembers Baghdad at the height of the sectarian violence. “It was like a ghost town, under curfew, its streets almost empty by 4pm,” recalls the Iraqi novelist and women’s rights activist. “Day and night were organised according to a mysterious schedule of when car bombs might go off, or mortars or improvised explosive devices or kidnappings. More than once, I escaped from snipers’ bullets passing in front of me. Once, US soldiers went mad and started firing at the houses in my neighbourhood after an explosive device had gone off. All the windows in our house were shattered; the shards of glass were like shrapnel.

Jabbouri had been unable to write fiction since the US tanks rolled in in 2003. “It was like a rent in my soul, a bleeding,” she tells me. “We deserved better than the dictator [Saddam Hussein] and better than the invasion.” But she could record her day-to-day life. Her journal notes now form part of the script of Another Day in Baghdad, a movie in the early stages of filming.

Everyone associated with the film, including the Iraqi actors who auditioned in 2014 and 2016, had their own experiences to add to the story. “They were people who had dug their heels in and stayed, but there had been one thing that was the straw that broke them,” says the film’s director, Maysoon Pachachi, born in Iraq but now living in London. “Someone gets kidnapped and his vocal cords are cut; one woman was from a minority group and they burned her sister in front of her; a guy had three shops taken over by the mafia, his son was kidnapped and died as a result of torture using drills. I spoke to a teenage girl about seeing her first corpse on her way to school, with its eyeball hanging out.

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Iraq’s Abadi orders ‘immediate’ probe into killing of officer at checkpoint

AP reports:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has ordered an "immediate" investigation into the killing of a senior military officer by "undisciplined individuals" at a checkpoint north of Baghdad.

Brig Gen Shareef Ismaeel Al Murshidi, a brigade commander whose forces are tasked with protecting Mr Al Abadi and Baghdad's Green Zone, was shot dead on Tuesday at a checkpoint outside Samarra. State-sanctioned Shiite militias play a large role in securing the town, which is home to a major Shiite shrine.

The statement issued by Mr Al Abadi's office did not provide further details about the incident.

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Erdogan says Turkey will soon ‘stomp’ on militants in northern Iraq

Reuters reports:

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday threatened to soon crush militants in northern Iraq, after his foreign minister last week said Ankara and Baghdad would carry out a joint offensive against Kurdish militants in Iraq.

“We are checking the terror nests in northern Iraq at every chance. Soon, we will stomp very strongly on the terrorists there,” Erdogan told local administrators in Ankara.

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How a Ransom for Royal Falconers Reshaped the Middle East

Robert F. Worth writes for The New York Times:

The V.I.P. terminal of Baghdad International Airport is a clean and quiet place, about a quarter-mile removed from the noise and squalor of the main arrivals-and-departures hall. If you have the right connections and $150 — American dollars only — you can wait for your flight in comfort on one of the soft white leather couches, sipping an espresso and getting a close-up view of some of the colorful people who run today’s Middle East.

But even here, special treatment has its limits. On April 15 last year, a Qatari man arrived in the V.I.P. terminal on an evening flight from his country’s capital city, Doha. After identifying himself as a senior government envoy, he announced that he and his 14 colleagues, all dressed in crisp white ankle-length tunics called thobes, did not want their luggage inspected.

The Iraqis insisted, politely, that all bags must be screened, even in the V.I.P. terminal. The leader of the Qatari team was visibly shocked to hear this. He asked for time. The Qataris huddled for a quiet discussion and then made a number of phone calls. Eventually, they relented and allowed the bags to be screened. Each of them contained stacks of bricklike squares, wrapped in black tape that the scanner could not penetrate. When customs officials asked what was under the tape, the Qataris refused to say. The standoff lasted all night, and finally, near dawn, the exasperated Qataris gave in and drove to Baghdad without their luggage. It was only later that the Iraqis opened the 23 duffels and discovered a mix of dollars and euros, amounting to some $360 million. The bills alone weighed more than 2,500 pounds.

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When Saddam gassed 5,000 Kurds at Halabja

AFP reports:

On March 16, 1988, as many as 5,000 Iraqi Kurds, mostly women and children, were killed when deadly gas was released on the northern town of Halabja by Saddam Hussein's forces.

AFP remembers the massacre, believed to have been the worst-ever gas attack targeting civilians.

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US Intelligence Official: Gains Against IS in Iraq, Syria Fragile

Rikar Hussein writes for Voice of America:

The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State has been able to decimate the terror group's self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria but these gains could be easily undercut by continued instability, a U.S. intelligence official warned Tuesday.

“In the near term, I worry about a loss of gains in Syria and Iraq,” David Cattler, of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There is still a lot of work that needs to be done there,” he said.

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Iraq Hurtles Toward Another Election: What You Need To Know

Douglas A. Ollivant writes for War on the Rocks:

Iraq continues to move slowly but surely towards recovery. The defeat of ISIL — despite a small insurgent pocket remaining in Kirkuk and Diyala — and the (relative) success of the Kuwait conference give Iraq the tools needed to continue moving forward and begin to solve its myriad of security, economic, and societal problems. Unresolved issues — the integration of Iraq’s battered Sunnis, the relationship with the United States, and the diversification of the national economy, to mention just a few — could lead to a resurgence of the Sunni extremism that saw its latest manifestation in ISIL.

First, however, Iraq must successfully navigate the next election, scheduled for May 12. This election — the second since the end of occupation — presents three key questions for Iraq: First, will Haider al-Abadi be able to retain the prime ministry? Second, will cross-sectarian lists find success? And third, will new voices be able to emerge and take real power? The proliferation of cross-sectarian and pro-reform parties is an encouraging sign, but it remains to be seen whether change has truly come to Iraqi politics at this early stage.

Unlike earlier elections in 2014 and especially 2010, the 2018 race will be characterized by a diversity of choices. In 2010, there were essentially only four parties or “lists,” two Shi’a, one Sunni, and one Kurdish (a list is how candidates are arrayed for the voter on the ballot. A list may have more than one party in a coalition, and conversely a party may be on more than one list). This year there are (arguably) five major Shi’a lists, two major Sunni lists, two major Kurdish lists, and several interesting independent and/or new parties and lists — for a total of 88 lists overall (though several of those are individuals and minority lists).

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After Defeating Islamic State, Iraq’s Shiites Turn Ire Toward Government

Ali Nabhan writes for The Wall Street Journal:

So many men from this oil-rich region of southern Iraq have been killed in battle with Islamic State militants that it has come to be known as “the district of martyrs.”

In the last three years of war, Iraq’s Shiite-led government has overcome challenges posed by Sunni insurgents and Kurdish separatists. But now it faces a reckoning among its core Shiite constituency, including many who fought to keep the country united and paid with the deaths of their sons and fathers.

Those watching Iraq’s Shiite heartland see a hardening among the country’s majority. Discontent there, expressed in demands for better services and a growing disregard for state authority, poses risks to a unified and stable Iraq, according to Sajad Jiyad, the managing director of Baghdad-based think-tank al-Bayan.

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