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

Once a relative unknown, Iraqi PM Abadi seeks second term

Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein write for Reuters:

Few outside Iraq knew the name Haider al-Abadi in 2014 when he was plucked from relative obscurity to lead a nation in chaos.

Four years on, Abadi has defied the expectations of an army of skeptics.

A former electrical engineer once in charge of servicing BBC elevators during years of voluntary exile in the United Kingdom, Abadi is banking on his achievements in office to win a second term at May 12 elections.

But victory is far from certain.

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What to expect from Iraq’s election on Saturday

Renad Mansour writes for The Washington Post:

Iraqis head to the polls on May 12 to vote for their next federal government. This will be the first time they vote since the territorial rise and fall of the Islamic State. It is also the first vote since a widespread protest movement started in 2015, calling for the removal of the current ruling elite and major reforms to the political system governing Iraq since 2003.

This vote, and the subsequent government-formation process, will determine Iraq’s political future. Despite a number of polls, it is impossible to tell who will become the next prime minister. Yet, pre-election maneuverings and strategies offer glimpses into the country’s political trajectory and the prospects of stabilization and rebuilding. Although many now celebrate the shift from identity– to issue-based politics in Iraq, this election reveals that change will not come as quickly as analysts might expect.

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Iraq says its warplanes targeted IS jihadists in Syria

AFP reports:

Iraqi warplanes carried out a raid Sunday targeting Islamic State group commanders in eastern Syria, in the second such strike on the jihadists since mid-April, the premier's office said.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the "painful strike" which targeted "a meeting of IS commanders south of Al-Dushashiya in Syrian territory", a statement said.

F-16 fighter jets were used in the early morning strike and the raid was "successful", the spokesman of Iraq's security media centre, General Yehya Rassoul, told AFP.

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Welcome To Partytown, Baghdad

Borzou Daragahi writes for Buzzfeed:

When Zeinab Mohamed was a teenager, she was barred from going out after dark, even in her own neighborhood. Plagued with bombings, shootings, and kidnappings, Baghdad was just too dangerous. She rushed back home after school every day, and stayed inside until the next morning. On graduation day at university a decade ago, the thought of a party or a late night out with her friends was out of the question. She celebrated quietly at home.

But on a cool Wednesday night in March, the 30-year-old travel agency employee was lounging at Piano, an upscale west Baghdad restaurant, with about a dozen relatives, enjoying dinner and cake for an uncle’s birthday. It was 10 p.m. Even her 7-year-old nephew had joined the festivities.

Welcome to Partytown, Baghdad, a city of nearly 8 million that has seen a dramatic mood shift since the deadly years that followed the US invasion of 2003 and the subsequent 15 years of war, most recently including a bloody fight against ISIS.

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Spectre of Isil looms large over Mosul as Iraq heads to the polls

Josie Ensor writes for The Telegraph:

It is election season in Mosul and the Iraqi city is awash with campaign posters.

For the first time in half a decade, faces of women - some without hijabs - beam out on to the streets of the former Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant stronghold.

“Some of these candidates with billboards don’t even care if they win, they just want to be seen, show they’re not afraid anymore,” said Rayan al-Hadidi, an activist from Mosul.

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Iraq’s displaced forgotten in elections

Salam Faraj writes for AFP:

While the election campaign is in full swing elsewhere in Iraq, the country's displaced camps holding hundreds of thousands of people barely register on the radars of those running for office.

In "Camp Seven" in the western Anbar province not a single campaign poster can be seen appealing to those who have the right to cast their ballot at the parliamentary vote on May 12.

For many of the residents the disinterest shown by the election candidates is mirrored by their own antipathy to those running.

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From Beirut to Baghdad: Elections, Iran and the Future of the Middle East

Seth J. Frantzman writes for The National Interest:

Elections in Iraq and Lebanon symbolize emerging trends and cleavages in the Middle East. Allies of Iran seek to consolidate power through the ballot box in both countries. With Islamic State largely defeated, these are the first major elections of a post–ISIS era. Although the United States, its regional allies and some European countries see Iranian influence in the region as a threat, the allies of Iran argue that they have brought stability to Iraq and Lebanon by helping to defeat ISIS and other jihadist groups. Beirut and Baghdad are key allies of Washington in the region, but Western powers face a catch-22 in both countries. The more they support them, the more Iran’s influence also benefits and its militia allies, such as Hezbollah or the Badr organization in Iraq, receive increased ballot box legitimacy.

Iraq and Lebanon are heading to elections on May 6 and 12. Both elections are important and will affect the region. In Iraq there are 6,900 candidates vying for 329 seats in parliament. Besides Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who heads his own “victory” list, familiar faces are competing and many of those running are incumbents. The Shi’ite strongman Nouri al-Maliki, who was pushed out as prime minister in 2014 as ISIS advanced on Baghdad, is running again. Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite cleric is also leading a list, as are Osama al-Nujaifi and Ayad Allawi. Nujaifi and Allawi’s lists receive many of their votes from the Sunni Arab minority. Among the Kurds, Nechirvan Barzani will head the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s campaign and the other Kurdish parties, such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, will compete separately.

The extremely divided playing field in Iraq could be seen as a sign of a healthy democracy fifteen years after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein. But the country is deeply divided on sectarian lines and millions of internally displaced people have not returned home after the battles against ISIS. In addition, Kurds complain that they have lost influence over disputed areas in Kirkuk and Sinjar. Prior to 2014 the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad had shared responsibilities in these areas, but after the Kurdish referendum in September Baghdad sought to assert total federal control. The KDP, for instance, is not running in Kirkuk and some Yazidis have complained about the heavy-handed presence of Shi’ite militias in Sinjar. Instability in these areas, including the presence of continued ISIS activity, threaten a lower voter turnout.

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Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric hints at renewed opposition to Maliki return

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Iraq’s powerful top Shi’ite cleric suggested on Friday that he had not abandoned his opposition to ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is bidding to return to power in elections on May 12.

Making a rare intervention in politics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani used his weekly sermon to tell Iraqis they should “avoid falling into the trap of those ... who are corrupt and those who have failed, whether they have been tried or not”.

Sistani, whose opinion is sacrosanct for millions in Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and beyond, said he was keeping an “equal distance” from all candidates and did not identify any of them by name in his sermon, read by one of his envoys, Sheikh Abdulmehdi al-Karbalai, and broadcast on television.

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Dispirited Kurds shy away from Iraqi elections in Kirkuk

Ali Choukeir writes for AFP:

In the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk it is hard to find posters of Kurdish candidates for Iraq's upcoming elections, but the campaigns of other hopefuls are in full swing.

The past seven months have seen a dramatic turn of events in Kirkuk, the "Jerusalem of Kurdistan" where hopes of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan were dashed after Baghdad retaliated against a referendum held in September.

In the Kurdish neighbourhood of Rahim Awa, home to the polling station that received the largest number of votes in the referendum, passers-by prefer not to discuss the return to the polls.

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These Iraqi Farmers Said No to ISIS. When Night Came They Paid the Price.

Margaret Coker and Falih Hassan write for The New York Times:

Islamic State militants dressed in Iraqi military uniforms launched a brazen nighttime attack in a farming hamlet close to Baghdad, killing 21 members of a local tribe that has been a vocal opponent of the extremists, security officials and residents said Wednesday.

The hourlong gun battle late Tuesday in this rural area approximately 25 miles north of the capital threatens growing optimism among both Iraqi officials and the international coalition fighting the Islamic State that Iraqis are gaining momentum in their efforts to stabilize cities and communities devastated by violence.

Although Iraqi forces are still engaged in mopping-up operations to rid pockets of the country of sleeper cells, terrorist attacks and civilian deaths have dropped sharply since the government declared victory over the Islamic State in December. In April, 68 Iraqi civilians were killed in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict, according to the United Nations, continuing a steep decline of violence in a country once plagued by almost daily suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

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