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

‘Water is life’: unexpected rainfall revives Iraq’s historic marshlands

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

This time last year, most of Iraq’s historic marshlands were dry, desiccated by upstream damming and a chronic lack of rainfall.

Now, local farmers are counting their blessings after unexpected heavy rainfall at the end of 2018 caused the dams to overflow by early January and water came gushing back to the wetlands in southeastern Iraq.

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IS legacy of guilt weighs heavily on Iraqi widows, children

Philip Issa and Salar Salim write for AP:

When Ahmed Khalil ran out of work as a van driver in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, he signed up with the Islamic State group's police force, believing the salary would help keep his struggling family afloat.

But what he wound up providing was a legacy that would outlast his job, and his life.

In Mosul and elsewhere across Iraq, thousands of families — including Khalil's widow and children — face crushing discrimination because their male relatives were seen as affiliated with or supporting IS when the extremists held large swaths of the country.

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Alcohol shops in Mosul reopen two years after its recapture from IS

Reuters reports:

Almost two years after Iraqi forces recaptured the city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS), small shops selling alcohol are reopening their doors and new ones are appearing.

Under the militant group’s strict rule, items such as alcohol and cigarettes were banned. Shops that sold alcohol were burned down and destroyed.

Liquor store owner Nemat Hassan said IS burned his store down in the city. “There was more than $40,000 worth of stock. They burned it,” he said.

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Iraq’s billion-dollar used car parts paradise

Judit Neurink writes for Deutsche Welle:

"It's a money-making machine," says garage owner Karhi Bakr, 59, about the import of secondhand car parts into the Kurdistan capital of Irbil.

Containers full of parts from cars written off after accidents in the West continue to pour into the city, which has become a major hub for the trade. Some of the 200 or so Kurdish traders involved have become very rich, Bakr says. "Their profits are enormous. If I had a partner willing to invest, I would also go to Europe to collect used parts."

For now, Bakr only uses parts that others have imported to repair German cars in his small garage in Irbil's "Car Quarter." During his 17 years in Denmark, he specialized in Mercedes repairs. Here in Irbil, most of his customers ask for secondhand parts. Only those who can't afford genuine parts will buy the cheap, poor-quality Chinese copies. "Secondhand is usually as good as new but goes for half the price. Chinese parts sell for around a quarter the price of new ones."

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U.S. carves out exceptions for foreigners dealing with Revolutionary Guards

Lesley Wroughton, Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay, and Phil Stewart report for Reuters:

The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after the group’s designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former U.S. officials.

The exemptions, granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and described by a State Department spokesman in response to questions from Reuters, mean officials from countries such as Iraq who may have dealings with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, would not necessarily be denied U.S. visas. The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces.

The exceptions to U.S. sanctions would also permit foreign executives who do business in Iran, where the IRGC is a major economic force, as well as humanitarian groups working in regions such as northern Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to do so without fear they will automatically trigger U.S. laws on dealing with a foreign terrorist group.

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Christians Seek Retrieval of Antiquities Stolen by IS

Sirwan Kajjo writes for Voice of America:

The so-called Islamic State (IS) may have been defeated militarily, but the terror group has left behind massive devastation in Syria and Iraq that is beyond repair — at least for now.

While communities across Iraq and Syria are trying to rebuild their lives after nearly five years of brutal IS rule, some find it extremely difficult to repair the damage the terror group has inflicted on religious and archaeological sites.

From its rise in 2014 until its final days in 2019, IS plundered, destroyed and burned all Christian landmarks, including churches and museums. In a propaganda video disseminated online, IS militants were seen dismantling Christian artifacts and statues with sledgehammers and destroying historical collections when they took control of the Iraq city of Mosul in 2014.

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Torture Persists in Mosul Jail

Human Rights Watch reports:

Iraqi officers have committed torture at a detention facility in Mosul at least through early 2019, months after Human Rights Watch reported on the abuses and shared information about those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. The Iraqi government did not respond to two Human Rights Watch letters requesting an update on steps taken to investigate the allegations.

“If the Iraqi government ignores credible reports of torture, it’s no wonder that the abuses persist,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What will it take for the authorities to take torture allegations seriously.”

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Can a Greek Tragedy Help Heal a Scarred City?

Alissa J. Rubin writes for The New York Times:

In this war-battered city, acting students picked their way to rehearsals over chunks of concrete late last month, avoiding stairs that might give way, circumnavigating puddles of fetid water and always keeping their distance from men with guns. No one could be trusted, not even those in uniform.

“We do not need to act a tragedy,” said Mustafa Dargham, 19, gesturing at the blasted shell of the former Fine Arts Institute as he took a break from rehearsals of “The Oresteia,” the ancient Greek trilogy by Aeschylus.

“This play is just talking about the reality of Mosul,” he added.

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Iraq parliament bans online battle games, citing ‘negative’ influence

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

Iraq’s parliament voted on Wednesday to ban popular online video games including PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, citing their “negative” influence especially on the young in a country long plagued by real-life bloodshed.

Lawmakers, who were sworn in last September after months of disputed results and ballot box recounts, approved a resolution that mandated the government to bar online access to the games and ban related financial transactions.

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The Dangerous Dregs of ISIS

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

A few days before the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate, I visited one of the new “pop-up prisons” that had been hastily converted to hold thousands of surrendering ISIS fighters in Syria. The numbers wildly exceeded all expectations, including estimates by U.S. intelligence. The most striking sight at the prison entrance was a mound of human hair lying on the raw concrete floor. Clumps of it—some brown, some graying, most of it greasy or matted—had been shaved off the heads and faces of fighters before they were taken to group cells. “Lice,” one of the guards told me.

After five years of war with the Islamic State, the biggest problem for the winners is coping with the losers. The aftermath has produced one of the world’s most perplexing postwar challenges: there are tens of thousands of captured ISIS members whom no nation wants to repatriate, and the local militia holding them has neither the resources nor the personnel to keep them indefinitely. More than five thousand ISIS fighters surrendered in the final month of fighting alone. Thousands more were captured earlier in the conflict. They’re dispersed among the new pop-up prisons in northeast Syria. A few hundred of the most severely wounded are in a small hospital, with the foreign fighters crowded in its basement for security. The hospital stench was overwhelming, even through a mask. “Sepsis,” a medic told me. Between December and March, another sixty-three thousand family members of ISIS fighters—wives enveloped in black niqabs that cover their faces, and bedraggled young children—also poured out of Baghouz, the last ISIS redoubt in Syria. They’re held separately, most in tents, at a dusty, malodorous camp in al-Hawl that already held ten thousand. The prisons, the hospital, and the camp are all bursting.

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