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

‘Last pocket of ISIS’ fighters surrounded, DoD official says

Kyle Rempfer reports for Military Times:

U.S. troops and their local partner forces have surrounded what has been called the “last pocket of ISIS resistance,” according to military officials involved in the campaign.

The final push, known as Operation Roundup, is in its third week. It is occurring in the Middle Euphrates River Valley’s Deir ez-Zor province, close to the Iraq-Syria border.

Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition’s fire support, have dialed back the Islamic State precipitously over the past few years.

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In Iraq and Syria, Imagery of Nighttime Electricity Use Illuminates the Impacts of War

Stratfor reports:

The outbreak of conflict in Syria in 2011, which quickly escalated to a full-blown civil war, has done tremendous damage to the country. One compelling way to visualize the devastation is using satellite night-light imagery.

The image below represents electricity use in the Levant area of the Middle East by depicting the evolving intensity of night lights between 2012 and 2016. As millions of refugees fled Syria and warfare destroyed the country's electricity network, the night-light intensity in Syria dropped precipitously between 2012 and 2016.

A similar dynamic can be observed in certain parts of Iraq. The areas of the country that were overrun by the Islamic State in 2014, namely Anbar province and certain parts of the north such as Mosul, witnessed a dramatic fall in night-light intensity between 2012 and 2016. The decline is the result of the coalition bombing campaign of the Islamic State strongholds in these areas, as well as the offensives to take back the territory captured by the Islamic State.

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KRG election: Why such a low turnout?

Karwan Faidhi Dri writes for Rudaw:

When the Kurdistan Region held its first parliamentary election in 1992, voters were enthusiastic to see what a Kurdish government could offer them after decades of oppression by successive Iraqi regimes.

Full of hopes and expectations, 87 percent of voters turned out to choose between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). However, when the parliamentary seats were divided equally between both parties, known as the fifty-by-fifty system, people soon became disillusioned.

On Sunday, turnout fell again to 58 percent. Although a better showing compared to the measly 44.52 percent who turned out for Iraq’s May 12 election, it was still the lowest in the Region’s history.

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Trade Bank of Iraq in talks to acquire a Gulf lender: chairman

Stanley Carvalho reports for Reuters:

Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) is in talks to buy a Gulf bank with branches in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as part of a strategy to boost revenues outside its home market, its chairman said on Wednesday.

The talks are underway and the purchase is expected to be completed in six to eight months, Faisal al-Haimus told Reuters. He did not disclose the name of the bank.

The move comes after TBI said in August it had put on hold its plans to buy a commercial bank in Turkey due to the weak lira.

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Deaths of high-profile Iraqi women spark fear of conservative backlash

Martin Chulov writes for The Guardian:

Even to a country inured to violence, the images were shocking. A man on a motorbike pulled up next to a car window and fired three shots at Tara al-Fares, killing her on a Baghdad street.

The daylight assassination, captured by a surveillance camera, was both brazen and familiar to Iraqis who lived through the civil war and painful decade since.

Yet it was also shockingly distinctive; the body slumped in the car seat was not a politician, official, insurgent or warlord. She was a former beauty queen; a young woman with both profile and attitude, one of four high-profile Iraqi women to have been killed across the country in quick succession.

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After the Battle: A Warning From Mosul

Pehr Lodhammar writes for The New York Times:

As the calamitous civil war next door in Syria grinds on toward a final battle in Idlib, with an unthinkably tragic end in sight, it’s worth taking a look farther east, at this shattered Iraqi city. Today, Mosul stands as a measure of how difficult “recovery” can be in this part of the world, even after the gunfire stops.

Explosive hazards implanted by the Islamic State, too dangerous and numerous to deactivate, still strew destruction, allowing the terrorist group to continue fighting in absentia and on the cheap. Their strategy has been, in a word, shrewd: Retreat from Mosul only after making life unlivable by making infrastructure all but impossible to fix.

So this remains a city of debris, nearly seven million tons worth, much of it concealing improvised explosive devices — I.E.D.s — and conventional ammunition that failed to detonate. Yes, an international team of experts is working to defuse both types of ordnance. But real security is still distant, given the slow pace at which we can clear the hazards with minimal funding and too few experts. So, the terror planted here by terrorists continues to stifle the economy and society in Iraq’s second city.

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Drought-stricken Iraq pleads for more water from upstream neighbours

Campbell MacDiarmid writes for The National:

Amid a worsening water crisis at home, Iraq’s foreign minister used his time at the UN podium on Saturday to call on upstream neighbours to reduce their use of waterways that flow into the country.

Iraq is in the midst of an unprecedented drought, which has eclipsed previously notable low-rainfall years in 2009 and 2015.

Lower than average rainfalls, higher summer temperatures thought to be associated with climate change, and reduced river flows from upstream – as Turkey begins to fill a controversial dam – have combined to create a complex environmental and social crisis in the country’s south.

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Secret Detention, No Recourse

Human Rights Watch reports:

Iraqi military and security forces have disappeared dozens of mostly Sunni Arab males since 2014, including children as young as 9, often in the context of counterterrorism operations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 78-page report, “‘Life Without a Father is Meaningless’: Arbitrary Arrests and Enforced Disappearances in Iraq 2014-2017,” draws on research Human Rights Watch has published on enforced disappearances in Iraq since 2014, when Iraqi forces launched anti-ISIS operations, and documents an additional 74 cases of men and four cases of boys detained by Iraqi military and security forces between April 2014 and October 2017 and forcibly disappeared. The enforced disappearances documented are part of a much wider continuing pattern in Iraq. Iraqi officials have failed to respond to inquiries from the families and Human Rights Watch for information about the disappeared.

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As Iraq slips from the headlines, humanitarians worry that aid donors are beginning to lose interest

Annie Slemrod writes for IRIN:

Iraq has defeated so-called Islamic State, its displaced citizens are heading home, and the country is slowly rebuilding after more than three years of war. But barely a year after the liberation of Mosul, millions of Iraqis still depend on aid, and the agencies that provide it say donors are losing interest in funding them.

According to the UN’s count, 8.7 million Iraqis need assistance this year, down from 11 million in 2017. To account for this 23-percent drop in needs, the UN has asked for less money for the emergency-related response it coordinates in Iraq: its 2018 appeal is for $569 million, down from $985 million (not including a separate appeal for the fallout of the Mosul military operation).

For the time being, the reduced ask is the best-funded UN appeal in the world: 64 percent, or just over $362 million, has been given for this year. But aid agencies are still nervous.

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Authoritarian Nostalgia Among Iraqi Youth: Roots And Repercussions

Marsin Alshamary writes for War on the Rocks:

When I conducted fieldwork in Iraq in January, one of my research assistants was a 20-year old native of the city of Kerbala. He routinely accompanied me to meetings with prominent members of Hizb Al-Da’wa, Iraq’s current ruling party and a key force in the anti-Ba’athist opposition movement during Saddam Hussein’s rule. After spending nearly two hours listening to one party member discuss the repression he faced during Saddam’s Ba’athist era, my research assistant confided in me that he was feeling “lost.” He was unsure, he explained, whether Saddam was really as bad as the interviewees had described. In his view, Iraq’s current leaders only paid lip service to democracy and were so embroiled in corruption that they were, in fact, much worse than the notorious Ba’athist dictator.

Many Arab Iraqi youth, who constitute Iraq’s largest age group, share his sentiments. They are expressing feelings of nostalgia for a time that they did not live through but that they feel symbolized Iraqi national unity and strength. Strongman nostalgia is not unique to Iraq and has been observed in both transitioning and consolidated democracies. Frequently, this romanticization of the past is fueled by a disenchantment with the present. In Iraq’s case, it can be attributed to the inefficient leadership that my research assistant and many other Iraqi youth described, as well as to the ISIL invasion and the Kurdish referendum, both of which raised concerns about the strength of the central government in Baghdad. The apparent longing for the Ba’athist era is further compounded by the slow pace of Iraqi democratization, which can seem prohibitively costly to those who don’t remember the authoritarian past.

Scholars and policymakers should be concerned with how Iraq’s leadership vacuum and the accompanying authoritarian nostalgia will manifest itself in the future, particularly as Iraq’s youth reach the age of voting and political activism. How will these young Iraqis vote, and how will their presence and electoral strength motivate broader changes in party ideology? And if they choose not to vote, as they recently did, how susceptible is Iraq to capture by a strongman? The Iraqi political elite’s decision to ignore both the existence and the causes of authoritarian nostalgia could have serious political repercussions, ranging from anti-government protests to democratic backslide.

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