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

IS Signals Re-Emergence in Parts of Iraq

Rikar Hussein writes for Voice of America:

While this month marks the first anniversary of the Iraqi-proclaimed victory over the Islamic State (IS) terror group, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are still trying to hunt down remaining IS militants as the extremist group returns to its insurgent roots.

In a televised address on December 9, 2017, former Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi announced the defeat of IS and the end of Iraqi campaign to recapture its territory.

While many considered IS obliterated following the declaration, recent reports show the militant group is still active in parts of the country and increasingly has been assassinating important figures, bombing Iraqi forces and kidnapping civilians.

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ISIS Finds a Niche in Northern Iraq

Jonathan Spyer writes for The Wall Street Journal:

The Qara Chokh mountain range in northern Iraq is remote, parched and inhospitable. That’s what makes it attractive to the core of Islamic State, which has survived the four-year U.S.-led war against its caliphate. ISIS is now regrouping near here and in similar hard-to-reach corners of Iraq and Syria. The terror group isn’t finished.

“It’s more than 15 years that there is al Qaeda here,” says Lt. Col. Surood Barzanji, an officer of the Kurdish Peshmerga’s 14th Brigade, currently tasked by the Kurdish Regional Government with maintaining security in the mountain area. “They changed their name to Daesh”—the Arabic acronym for ISIS—“and now there is another one coming. A new one.” We look across the Hussein al-Ghazi Pass toward an imposing warren of caves where, he says, ISIS fighters are living. Two miles away, the first checkpoints of the Iraqi Security Forces are visible. In the no man’s land between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, Islamic State finds its niche.

Later, in a Peshmerga briefing room on the mountain, Col. Barzanji traces the route ISIS men use to reach their haven in the caves. It begins on the western side of the Tigris River, south of Mosul around the town of Hamam Alil. This region of Iraq is known to local residents, Peshmerga and Arab fighters alike as “Kandahar”—like the famously violent province of Afghanistan—because of the strength of support there for the Sunni jihadist cause.

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Cleaning up after ISIS: how Iraq’s new chemicals team is trying to undo years of conflict pollution

UN Environment reports:

At the precise moment when ISIS fighters were prepping for their retreat from the Iraqi city of Ramadi in February 2016, Hassan Mohammed lay in bed struggling to breathe.

For nine months, through the jihadist occupation of his hometown, the young engineering student had huffed and wheezed from morning to night. And for nine months, Mohammed, an asthmatic, had just about sustained himself with inhalers and a self-imposed house arrest. “I couldn’t go outside,” he said. “Pollution had always been bad because of the factories, the farm sprays, the desert dust. The fighting made everything much worse.”

But now, as the occupiers set about concealing their withdrawal from circling jets, Mohammed was convinced he was going to die. First, ISIS fighters lined the streets with burning tires, and then they blew up strategic installations across the city, including a pesticides plant. As the acrid smoke and plumes of dust seeped through the window cracks into Mohammed’s room, no manner of medication or precautions could keep the billowing filth at bay. “It’s a terrifying feeling when your lungs don’t work,” he said. “I still feel it. It doesn’t go away.”

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In Early 2019, UN Team to Begin Probe of IS Crimes in Iraq

AFP reports:

A U.N. team authorized over a year ago to investigate the massacre of the Yazidi minority and other atrocities by jihadists in Iraq will finally begin work early next year, the head of the investigation said Tuesday.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in September 2017 to bring those responsible for Islamic State group war crimes to justice — a cause championed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

The team, led by British lawyer Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, was deployed to Baghdad in October, but has since focused on administrative and technical details to lay the groundwork for the probe.

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Families of Local IS Members Face Rejection in Iraq

Nisan Ahmado and Kawa Omar write for Voice of America:

More than one year after its liberation from Islamic State terror, the Iraqi city of Mosul still suffers from scars left behind.

Families and children of the terror group have returned to their homes in Mosul, facing rejection and shame by the local community. One widow of a former IS fighter in Mosul, who requested anonymity, told VOA she and her two children have been going through a distressing situation for being linked to an IS member.

"My husband was an IS member, but what does this have to do with me? If my husband joined the al-Qaida group, what does this have to do with my children? The family and parents have nothing to do with someone's affiliation with a terror group," she said.

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Iraq’s ancient pottery struggles to outlive modern plastic

AFP reports:

Adel Al Kawwaz expertly spins the potter's wheel, shaping the wet clay into a smooth jug. His family is famous for this millennia-old Iraqi craft, but Adel is struggling to keep it alive.

For thousands of years, clay utensils for storing food and cooking were found in virtually every home in Sumer, the earliest known civilisation in modern-day southern Iraq.

But now, with a flood of more modern products, demand for the handmade clay items has dried up.

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With militants gone, booze is back in Mosul

AFP reports:

Rows of yellow-labeled whiskey bottles sit alongside imported French wines, while cans of Korean beer chill in the fridge: with Iraq’s Mosul free of jihadists, the booze is back. The city spent three years under the iron-fisted rule of the Islamic State group, which punished those caught drinking alcohol with public lashings or worse.

But more than a year since Iraqi forces ousted the jihadists from Mosul, liquor stores are flourishing. The western commercial district of Al-Duwasa is home to several modest outlets, including Khairallah Tobey’s. The enterprising 21-year-old bounced between well-stocked shelves, pulling down bottles of beer priced at an affordable 1,500 Iraqi dinars-just over a dollar. “Our sales are good right now,” said Tobey, a member of Iraq’s Yazidi minority. Owners of Mosul’s bottle shops are all Yazidi or Christian, as Iraq does not grant alcohol licenses to Muslim citizens.

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Iraq’s Nineveh province declares state of emergency following flash flooding

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraqi authorities on Sunday declared a state of emergency after flash flooding and torrential rainfall battered Nineveh, further exacerbating the plight of the war-torn province.

In a statement, the provincial government urged "residents to stay away from the valley corridor as rescue teams are trying to take people out of the flooded areas".

Rainfall swept through several districts inside Nineveh's capital Mosul, as well as the south of the province, where eyewitnesses said the water level had risen to seven meters in Gassab Valley.

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The True Origins of ISIS

Hassan Hassan writes for The Atlantic:

Most historians of the Islamic State agree that the group emerged out of al-Qaeda in Iraq as a response to the U.S. invasion in 2003. They also agree that it was shaped primarily by a Jordanian jihadist and the eventual head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Jordanian had a dark vision: He wished to fuel a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and establish a caliphate. Although he was killed in 2006, his vision was realized in 2014—the year ISIS overran northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

Recently, I came to question the conventional wisdom. The groundwork for ISIS was arguably laid long before the invasion, and if there was one person responsible for the group’s modus operandi, it was Abdulrahman al-Qaduli, an Iraqi from Nineveh better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Ali al-Anbari—not Zarqawi. It was Anbari, Zarqawi’s No. 2 in his al-Qaeda years, who defined the Islamic State’s radical approach more than any other person; his influence was more systematic, longer lasting, and deeper than that of Zarqawi.

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ISIS Official Known for Caging Foes Is Captured by Iraq

Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin write for The New York Times:

The Iraqi authorities released a video on Friday with the confession of a recently captured Islamic State operative who was involved in a notorious incident in which captured Kurdish soldiers were put in cages and paraded around a northern Iraqi city by hooded Islamic State fighters.

At the time, early 2015, the Islamic State was threatening to burn them to death much as they had done two months earlier to a Jordanian pilot who had been captured, caged and then set on fire in Syria. It is not clear how the Kurdish captives were killed.

The captured operative, Jamal al-Mashadani, who was known by the nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Kurdi, was an officer in President Saddam Hussein’s security apparatus before joining Al Qaeda in Iraq after Mr. Hussein’s fall. Mr. Mashadani later shifted his loyalty to the Islamic State.

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