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

In Iraq, the best digits cost a mint

Mustafa Salim and Tamer El-Ghobashy write for The Washington Post:

In Iraq, owning this special item can grease the skids in business, get a politician to stand at attention and even inspire affection in a sweetheart.

This key that opens so many doors is a cellphone SIM card. But not just any SIM card. It must be “distinguished,” associated with a phone number considered prestigious because it has a distinctive or beautiful series of digits. Say, for instance, a string of sevens or zeros, or a repeating pattern of numerals.

The marketplace for these modest pieces of plastic inside phones, which connect them to a network, can rival that of gold and precious stones — with trades in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.

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Tillerson says the fight against the Islamic State is far from over

Carol Morello writes for The Washington Post:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday described the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as far from complete and announced $200 million in new U.S. aid to stabilize war-torn communities so residents can return home.

“The end of major combat operations does not mean we have achieved the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Tillerson said at an international conference of countries that banded together against the Islamic State, which also is commonly known by the acronym ISIS. “ISIS remains a serious threat to the stability of the region, our homelands and other parts of the globe.”

Tillerson spoke at a meeting of his counterparts from more than 70 countries that contributed militarily or financially in ousting Islamic State militants from virtually all their declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria. His goal is to encourage them to focus on fighting extremists in the region and elsewhere, and not be distracted by regional rivalries and disputes.

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Baghdad okays international flights for Kurdistan’s pilgrims

Rudaw reports:

With the consent of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority has granted permission for international flights to depart Kurdistan Region airports for those traveling to Saudi Arabia for Umrah.

“Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave consent for airplanes carrying [those who do] Umrah to take off and land at the Erbil and Sulaimani international airports,” the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority announced in an official letter.

The consent is conditional on the provision that the authorities are informed of the number of flights. The letter, dated February 1, was sent to travel companies specializing in Umrah trips.

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Defeat of ISIS in Iraq Caused $45.7 Billion in Damage to Infrastructure, Study Finds

Michael R. Gordon and Isabel Coles write for The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S.-backed military campaign that defeated Islamic State militants in Iraq has resulted in $45.7 billion in damage to the country’s houses, power plants, schools and other civilian infrastructure, according to a new assessment by experts at the World Bank and the Iraqi government.

Teams of experts pored over satellite imagery, conducted on-site checks and studied social media to prepare the report, which is the most extensive inventory to date of the destruction caused by more than three years of war.

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Elections And Old Faces: How Often Do Iraq’s Political Elite Change?

Hashim Al-Rikabi writes for 1001 Iraqi Thoughts:

Some commentators in Iraq have dismissed the significance of the upcoming elections by arguing that its results are inconsequential since the political class perpetuates itself through several means, namely via established patronage networks. But the results of previous elections challenge such claims, as evident in the low re-election rate, which suggests that the power of the electorate to hold representatives to account should not be underestimated.

Of the 210 incumbents who contested the 2014 parliamentary elections, only 39% (81) secured their seats. In other words, incumbents represented only 25% of the Council of Representatives in 2014.These numbers are considered very low comparing to established democracies, for example, the reelection rate in the United States averaged over 80%.

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Kurdistan Regional Government: Allegations of Mass Executions

Human Rights Watch reports:

New evidence suggests that between August 28 and September 3, 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Asayish security forces from the West of the Tigris branch carried out mass executions of alleged Islamic State (also known as ISIS) fighters in their custody, which constitutes a war crime, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga military forces detained the men, both foreign and Iraqi, in a school in Sahil al-Maliha, a village 70 kilometers northwest of Mosul. Asayish forces bused them to a prison in Shilgia, a village 45 kilometers away, according to a now retired security force member, and from there they took them to two sites in the vicinity of the town of Zummar, where they executed them. Human Rights Watch located an apparent mass grave site where Asayish buried at least some of the bodies after the executions, according to the retired security force member and six residents of the neighboring village. KRG criminal justice authorities should investigate the apparent war crimes and prosecute those implicated up to the highest levels of responsibility.

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Iraq storms ISIL camp and retakes villages in north-east desert region

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraqi forces stormed an ISIL camp and retook several villages from the extremists on Wednesday, as Baghdad launched operations to rid a northeastern desert region of insurgents.

The offensive — which comes just two months after Iraq declared victory over ISIL — is also targeting members of the little-known "White Flag" militant group, which is believed to have Kurdish links.

"With the goal of enforcing security and stability, destroying sleeper cells, and continuing clearing operations, an operation was launched in the early hours of Wednesday morning to search and clear areas east of Tuz Khurmato (50 kilometres from Kirkuk city)," the Iraqi armed forces said.

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Baghdad mayor has ambitious plans for her city

Sammy Ketz writes for AFP:

The mayor of Baghdad wants to revive her war-torn city, fix its decrepit infrastructure and twin it with Paris -- another female-led metropolis.

Thikra Alwash, a 60-year-old civil engineer and only woman mayor of a Middle East capital, faces a mountainous task.

She has given herself 10 years to revive the city, heart of the Abassid Caliphate and the centre of Arab and Muslim civilisation for five centuries.

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America’s ISIS Jihadists Were Largely Duds

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

For all the hype about Americans joining isis, the majority never saw combat during the Islamic State’s three-year rule. They were largely marginal players in the jihadist caliphate—often working in menial jobs as cooks, mechanics, cleaners, or orderlies. In the end, many became disillusioned and looked for a way out, a new study, “The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq,” reported, on Tuesday.

“For many of the returnees, life in jihadist-held territory did not live up to their expectations,” the report, by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, concludes. “The propaganda, while enthralling, presented an idealized version of reality, meaning that their real-world experience upon arrival was often jarring. Living conditions were much harsher than they saw in the online magazines and videos, and the promises of companionship and camaraderie were rarely fulfilled. Instead, cultural clashes, bitter infighting, and suspicion among recruits and leaders abounded.”

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US begins reducing troops in Iraq after victory over IS

Susannah George and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report for AP:

The U.S. has started to reduce the number of its troops in Iraq following Baghdad’s declaration of victory over the Islamic State group last year, an Iraqi government spokesman and Western contractors said Monday.

The move marks a shift in priorities for the U.S. following the collapse of the extremists’ so-called caliphate late last year. It also comes about three months ahead of Iraqi national elections in which paramilitary groups with close ties to Iran are set to play a decisive role.

Dozens of U.S. soldiers have been transported from Iraq to Afghanistan on daily flights in the past week, along with weapons and equipment, the contractors said.

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