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

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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Iraq prepares for fresh anti ISIL push

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraqi forces announced on Sunday the launch of new operations to liberate three provinces from ISIL. News of the offensive comes just two months after Baghdad declared victory over the extremists.

In an attempt to avoid a return to its previous form, military operations are set to target insurgent cells in eastern Kirkuk, the multi-ethnic town of Tuz Khurmato and the provinces of Diyala and Anbar.

General Abul Amir Yarallah said “it is vital to maintain security in eastern Kirkuk and in Tuz Khurmatu to ensure that displaced people are returned home safely.”

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The Islamic State’s toxic farewell: Environmental sabotage and chronic disease

Tamer El-Ghobashy and and Joby Warrick write for The Washington Post:

Like any typical 15-year-old, Ahmed Jassim stays glued to his smartphone, watching music videos and playing games. In his family’s modest living room with dark concrete walls, the light from the phone’s screen illuminates his handsome but gaunt face.

But unlike his peers, Ahmed doesn’t go outside to play soccer or fly kites. Simple activities tire him out quickly because his heart is permanently damaged, the result of inhaling the smoke that blanketed this town of farmers and shepherds after Islamic State militants ignited nearby oil wells.

“He hates life. He just hates life,” his mother, Rehab Fayad, said wistfully. “It’s affected him not just physically, but psychologically.”

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A New Era Beckons For Iraqi-Saudi Relations

Mehiyar Kathem writes for War on the Rocks:

Iraq is witnessing a rare moment of confidence. The defeat of the Islamic State in the country, along with the Iraqi government’s proactive measures to prevent conflict from erupting over territorial claims by separatist Kurds, has helped Iraq start to pull itself out of the abyss. An important but frequently overlooked subplot of this story is that Iraqi-Saudi ties are warmer than they have been in three decades — the partial result of a U.S. policy gambit.

The recent thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq marks a key policy change. The United States and Saudi Arabia see the need for a strong Iraq to counter Iran’s expansionism and to bring a semblance of stability to a conflict-prone region. America’s policy towards Iraq now relies heavily on forging a strong Saudi-Iraqi partnership, which relieves the U.S. government from having to fund Iraq’s rebuilding. America’s new approach envisages closer security and economic cooperation between Iraq and its Gulf neighbors, working together to reverse the destructive sectarianism of the past few years. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has capitalized on this change, turning it into an opportunity to seek regional support to address his country’s urgent reconstruction needs.

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Escaped Bear Startles Pedestrians on Crowded Street

Carrie Arnold writes for National Geographic:

Pedestrians in Basra, Iraq, got quite a shock this morning: A huge bear lumbering across the street. The animal had escaped from a shop where it was being held for sale, according to local news reports.

Onlookers captured footage of the Syrian brown bear ambling through crowded streets of the Persian Gulf port city before it was captured and returned to the shop.

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Iraq PM says Kurds face budget cuts like everyone else

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi attempted to patch up relations with Kurdish lawmakers on Thursday after they boycotted parliament’s annual budget session over looming cuts.

Baghdad withheld budget payments to the Kurdish region in 2014, justifying the move on the Erbil's decision to sell crude oil independently of the central government.

But parliament failed on Wednesday to pass its annual budget due to Kurdish, Sunni and some Shiite blocs skipping the session in protest.

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After ISIS, Two Iraqs Emerge in Iran’s Shadow

Callum Paton writes for Newsweek:

In describing the three years he spent fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group from the banks of the Tigris to the Makhoul mountains and Iraq’s desert frontier with Syria, Mohammed Jassem did not call himself a soldier.

Fresh from battle, flush with victory, Jassem is a Shiite holy warrior, a mujahid.

On his battered mobile phone, Jassem played a grainy video from November 2017 of fighting in the deserts around al-Qa’im, the last ISIS-held town in Iraq, before the vital strategic link in the militants’ once expansive supply network was liberated.

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