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

KRG election: Why such a low turnout?

Karwan Faidhi Dri writes for Rudaw:

When the Kurdistan Region held its first parliamentary election in 1992, voters were enthusiastic to see what a Kurdish government could offer them after decades of oppression by successive Iraqi regimes.

Full of hopes and expectations, 87 percent of voters turned out to choose between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). However, when the parliamentary seats were divided equally between both parties, known as the fifty-by-fifty system, people soon became disillusioned.

On Sunday, turnout fell again to 58 percent. Although a better showing compared to the measly 44.52 percent who turned out for Iraq’s May 12 election, it was still the lowest in the Region’s history.

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Trade Bank of Iraq in talks to acquire a Gulf lender: chairman

Stanley Carvalho reports for Reuters:

Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) is in talks to buy a Gulf bank with branches in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as part of a strategy to boost revenues outside its home market, its chairman said on Wednesday.

The talks are underway and the purchase is expected to be completed in six to eight months, Faisal al-Haimus told Reuters. He did not disclose the name of the bank.

The move comes after TBI said in August it had put on hold its plans to buy a commercial bank in Turkey due to the weak lira.

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Deaths of high-profile Iraqi women spark fear of conservative backlash

Martin Chulov writes for The Guardian:

Even to a country inured to violence, the images were shocking. A man on a motorbike pulled up next to a car window and fired three shots at Tara al-Fares, killing her on a Baghdad street.

The daylight assassination, captured by a surveillance camera, was both brazen and familiar to Iraqis who lived through the civil war and painful decade since.

Yet it was also shockingly distinctive; the body slumped in the car seat was not a politician, official, insurgent or warlord. She was a former beauty queen; a young woman with both profile and attitude, one of four high-profile Iraqi women to have been killed across the country in quick succession.

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After the Battle: A Warning From Mosul

Pehr Lodhammar writes for The New York Times:

As the calamitous civil war next door in Syria grinds on toward a final battle in Idlib, with an unthinkably tragic end in sight, it’s worth taking a look farther east, at this shattered Iraqi city. Today, Mosul stands as a measure of how difficult “recovery” can be in this part of the world, even after the gunfire stops.

Explosive hazards implanted by the Islamic State, too dangerous and numerous to deactivate, still strew destruction, allowing the terrorist group to continue fighting in absentia and on the cheap. Their strategy has been, in a word, shrewd: Retreat from Mosul only after making life unlivable by making infrastructure all but impossible to fix.

So this remains a city of debris, nearly seven million tons worth, much of it concealing improvised explosive devices — I.E.D.s — and conventional ammunition that failed to detonate. Yes, an international team of experts is working to defuse both types of ordnance. But real security is still distant, given the slow pace at which we can clear the hazards with minimal funding and too few experts. So, the terror planted here by terrorists continues to stifle the economy and society in Iraq’s second city.

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Drought-stricken Iraq pleads for more water from upstream neighbours

Campbell MacDiarmid writes for The National:

Amid a worsening water crisis at home, Iraq’s foreign minister used his time at the UN podium on Saturday to call on upstream neighbours to reduce their use of waterways that flow into the country.

Iraq is in the midst of an unprecedented drought, which has eclipsed previously notable low-rainfall years in 2009 and 2015.

Lower than average rainfalls, higher summer temperatures thought to be associated with climate change, and reduced river flows from upstream – as Turkey begins to fill a controversial dam – have combined to create a complex environmental and social crisis in the country’s south.

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Secret Detention, No Recourse

Human Rights Watch reports:

Iraqi military and security forces have disappeared dozens of mostly Sunni Arab males since 2014, including children as young as 9, often in the context of counterterrorism operations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 78-page report, “‘Life Without a Father is Meaningless’: Arbitrary Arrests and Enforced Disappearances in Iraq 2014-2017,” draws on research Human Rights Watch has published on enforced disappearances in Iraq since 2014, when Iraqi forces launched anti-ISIS operations, and documents an additional 74 cases of men and four cases of boys detained by Iraqi military and security forces between April 2014 and October 2017 and forcibly disappeared. The enforced disappearances documented are part of a much wider continuing pattern in Iraq. Iraqi officials have failed to respond to inquiries from the families and Human Rights Watch for information about the disappeared.

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As Iraq slips from the headlines, humanitarians worry that aid donors are beginning to lose interest

Annie Slemrod writes for IRIN:

Iraq has defeated so-called Islamic State, its displaced citizens are heading home, and the country is slowly rebuilding after more than three years of war. But barely a year after the liberation of Mosul, millions of Iraqis still depend on aid, and the agencies that provide it say donors are losing interest in funding them.

According to the UN’s count, 8.7 million Iraqis need assistance this year, down from 11 million in 2017. To account for this 23-percent drop in needs, the UN has asked for less money for the emergency-related response it coordinates in Iraq: its 2018 appeal is for $569 million, down from $985 million (not including a separate appeal for the fallout of the Mosul military operation).

For the time being, the reduced ask is the best-funded UN appeal in the world: 64 percent, or just over $362 million, has been given for this year. But aid agencies are still nervous.

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Authoritarian Nostalgia Among Iraqi Youth: Roots And Repercussions

Marsin Alshamary writes for War on the Rocks:

When I conducted fieldwork in Iraq in January, one of my research assistants was a 20-year old native of the city of Kerbala. He routinely accompanied me to meetings with prominent members of Hizb Al-Da’wa, Iraq’s current ruling party and a key force in the anti-Ba’athist opposition movement during Saddam Hussein’s rule. After spending nearly two hours listening to one party member discuss the repression he faced during Saddam’s Ba’athist era, my research assistant confided in me that he was feeling “lost.” He was unsure, he explained, whether Saddam was really as bad as the interviewees had described. In his view, Iraq’s current leaders only paid lip service to democracy and were so embroiled in corruption that they were, in fact, much worse than the notorious Ba’athist dictator.

Many Arab Iraqi youth, who constitute Iraq’s largest age group, share his sentiments. They are expressing feelings of nostalgia for a time that they did not live through but that they feel symbolized Iraqi national unity and strength. Strongman nostalgia is not unique to Iraq and has been observed in both transitioning and consolidated democracies. Frequently, this romanticization of the past is fueled by a disenchantment with the present. In Iraq’s case, it can be attributed to the inefficient leadership that my research assistant and many other Iraqi youth described, as well as to the ISIL invasion and the Kurdish referendum, both of which raised concerns about the strength of the central government in Baghdad. The apparent longing for the Ba’athist era is further compounded by the slow pace of Iraqi democratization, which can seem prohibitively costly to those who don’t remember the authoritarian past.

Scholars and policymakers should be concerned with how Iraq’s leadership vacuum and the accompanying authoritarian nostalgia will manifest itself in the future, particularly as Iraq’s youth reach the age of voting and political activism. How will these young Iraqis vote, and how will their presence and electoral strength motivate broader changes in party ideology? And if they choose not to vote, as they recently did, how susceptible is Iraq to capture by a strongman? The Iraqi political elite’s decision to ignore both the existence and the causes of authoritarian nostalgia could have serious political repercussions, ranging from anti-government protests to democratic backslide.

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Playing The Long Game In Iraq

Perry Cammack and Daniel Benaim write for War on the Rocks:

Perhaps no other country faces a greater exposure to competition between Iran and the United States than Iraq. So far, inside Iraq, the Trump administration has sensibly prioritized counterterrorism partnership against ISIL over its broader policy of competition with Iran. But a pair of recent developments may test that approach.

Between these bad options — confronting Iran inside Iraq and walking away — lies a third: the long game. It requires accepting that Iraq will continue to uncomfortably straddle America and Iran. Since the 2003 invasion, American policy has whiplashed between surging troops in and pulling troops out. It is time to construct a more durable bilateral relationship that sees Iraq as a partner, rather than a client. That demands constructive engagement in support of Iraq’s fragile but stabilizing sovereignty. It entails support for compromise and pragmatism during Iraq’s difficult government formation process and promotion of Iraq’s continued regional integration. It means defining a sustainable, more restrained security cooperation paradigm in the wake of the defeat of ISIL. Such an approach is more carrot than stick. But it will also require articulation of viable redlines, for example if U.S.-supplied advanced weaponry leaks to militias or sectarianism once again goes off the rails. A more confident, more stable Iraq will be more resilient against both home-grown Sunni extremism and Iranian interference, and could yet play a productive role in a region riven with conflict.

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The End of the Iran Deal Could Destabilize Iraq

James Fromson and Steven Simon write for Foreign Affairs:

On Sunday, Iraq held its first round of parliamentary elections since the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS). In a surprising result, the main victor was the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Sairoon Alliance, a coalition between Sadr’s own party and the Iraqi Communist Party, defeated coalitions led by the incumbent prime minister and U.S. favorite, Haider al-Abadi (who finished third), and the Iranian-backed Hadi al-Ameri (who finished second).

Sadr’s victory comes as a relief to neither Iran nor the United States, both of which Sadr targeted in his populist electoral campaign, which promised, like that of every other party, to rid the country of corruption and foreign influence. Iran’s ally, Ameri, came in second, but his party is short on allies with which to form a government. And Abadi’s unexpectedly poor third-place finish was a disappointment to Washington, although there is still a chance that he will join with Sadr in the government formation process and even stay on as prime minister.

For the United States, there is reason for cautious optimism in these results. The new prime minister, whoever that turns out to be, is unlikely to be an Iranian puppet, even if he looks to Iran as an ally. The election, moreover, was fought not along sectarian lines—Sadr’s coalition included some Sunnis as well as his own Shiite base—but on issues such as corruption, and it came at a time when the Iraqi state (or at least parts of it, such as the army) is enjoying broad legitimacy for the first time in years.

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