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

From Syria, ISIS Slips Into Iraq to Fight Another Day

Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Philip Issa report for AP:

ISIS fighters facing defeat in Syria are slipping across the border into Iraq, where they are destabilizing the country's fragile security, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

Hundreds — likely more than 1,000 — ISIS fighters have crossed the open, desert border in the past six months, defying a massive operation by U.S., Kurdish, and allied forces to stamp out the remnants of the jihadi group in eastern Syria, according to three Iraqi intelligence officials and a U.S. military official.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on intelligence matters. But indications of the extremist group's widening reach in Iraq are clear.

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Iraqi rapper gives angry youth in city of Basra music outlet

Nabil al-Jurani and Qassim Abdul-Zahra write for AP:

A youth-led protest movement in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra, which saw riots last summer over failing services and soaring unemployment, has found an artistic outlet in the words and beats of homegrown rapper Ahmed Chayeb.

The 22-year-old rapper, also known as Mr. Guti, says his generation is fed up with the false piety of politicians and religious authorities who preach about faith and duty but have let Basra fall apart.

“We need to be critical of everything that’s not right,” Chayeb told The Associated Press in a recent interview in his home studio, where he recorded ”This is Basra ,” lashing out at the powerful Shiite religious establishment.

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Iraq’s Kurdish regional parliament elects interim speaker amid boycott

Reuters reports:

Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers on Monday elected an interim speaker of parliament, an assembly key to regional stability, although the Kurds’ second largest party boycotted the vote due to a rift between the main political forces in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Vala Fareed, nominated by the region’s dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was confirmed in the post by 68 votes. She is the first female speaker in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

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Why are Iraq’s paramilitaries turning on their own ranks?

Renad Mansour writes for The Washington Post:

Earlier this month, Iraq’s paramilitary group raided the home of and arrested one of its own — a prominent and longtime paramilitary leader, Aws al-Khafaji. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — an umbrella organization of about 50 predominantly Shiite paramilitary groups — has initiated a crackdown on groups.

The purging reveals an emerging reality in Iraq: The paramilitary groups that fought together against the Islamic State are competing against each other for power, legitimacy and resources. In this process, the PMU is further institutionalizing by centralizing power and the disparate groups that fall within its umbrella. This competition has profound implications for stability in post-Islamic State Iraq — and for how we should understand its emerging state.

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Meet the truffle-hunters of Baghdad

Chloe Cornish writes for Financial Times:

Night falls and men in long tunics line a road heading west. Illuminated by car headlights, they sell what look like piles of muddy rocks. Welcome to Baghdad, where February is desert truffle season.

My first taste of this delicacy is with a Baghdad provincial council member. As Nouri Jassim, a Sufi, enumerates the province’s failings just as he counts prayer beads — electricity, sewage, housing shortage, corruption, unemployment — I tuck into boiled truffle slices. A little gritty with fine sand, they are nonetheless delicious.

Their pursuit can be dangerous. Truffle-hunters sometimes stumble into areas littered with mines from Iraq’s more than three decades of war. Three brothers collecting truffles in the mountains north of Baghdad were reportedly kidnapped and killed this month in a suspected Isis attack.

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In heart of Baghdad, IS war museum honors fallen militiamen

Zeina Karam and Qassim Abdul-Zahra write for AP:

A few steps from Baghdad's cultural heart and its famous book market on al-Mutanabi Street lies the Iraqi capital's latest tourist attraction: a war museum glorifying the sacrifices of thousands of mainly Shiite militiamen who died fighting the Islamic State group.

The museum is meant to honor the fallen but it also underscores the Iran-backed militias' growing clout in the country. Their political and military might soared after they helped the government defeat IS — so much so that they are now accused by some of seeking to build a parallel state within Iraq.

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Trump’s Iraq Strategy Is Foolish

Michael Wahid Hanna and Thanassis Cambanis write for Foreign Affairs:

U.S. troops are on their way out of Syria. In Afghanistan, a similar drawdown, perhaps even a permanent exit, is in the offing as peace talks with the Taliban continue. On February 2, U.S. President Donald Trump turned his attention to a third crucible of conflict in the region: Iraq.

This time, however, rather than talk of a drawdown, Trump argued in an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq—not just to continue to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS, but to “watch Iran.” U.S. bases in Iraq, Trump suggested, would serve as outposts for monitoring Tehran’s activities relating to “nuclear weapons or other things.”

Trump’s comments are reckless. They reflect a misguided obsession with Iran and portray Iraq as little more than a pawn in the United States’ Iran policy. Such rhetoric is poison for Washington’s relationship with Baghdad—one of the last remaining anchors for U.S. influence in a region littered with dysfunctional and counterproductive partnerships.

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UN envoy calls for end to political infighting in Iraq

Edith M. Lederer writes for AP:

The new U.N. envoy for Iraq called Wednesday for an end to political infighting so the formation of a government can be completed, warning that further delay could lead to "significant repercussions" on the country's stability.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the U.N. Security Council that the Iraqi people "are bearing the brunt of the political stalemate" at a time when it is critical to meet their demands for better services, with water and electricity at the top of the list.

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Undefeated, ISIS Is Back in Iraq

Aziz Ahmad writes for The New York Review of Books:

Inside a prison in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, vanquished Islamic State fighters who once swept through much of the country now mill about sullenly on a bare, tiled floor, reflecting on a cause they insist will endure. Many spend hours in fierce debate, apparently undeterred by their movement’s apparent military defeat. Their cause, they say, remains divinely ordained. Their capture incidental. “Hathi iradet Allah,” they say. This is God’s will.

Kurdish guard called for a captive, whom I will call Abu Samya—a brooding Baghdad resident kidnapped first by the Islamic State’s forerunner group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later by Shia death squads as sectarian lines hardened in 2006–2007. As he walked toward the guard, some fellow captives condemned him as “khain,” or traitor. Outside the walls, long before the caliphate crumbled, that charge carried a death penalty. The jaded jihadist shrugged it off.

After a curt introduction, the thin man leaned across the table, eyeballing me. “There is no life left for me,” he said, in a tone of resignation that seemed briefly to disguise the unmistakable sense of anger years in the making“Ask me anything.”

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PM says Iraq to repatriate Iraqi IS fighters held in Syria

Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP:

Iraq will repatriate Iraqi members of the Islamic State group held by U.S.-backed fighters in Syria as well as thousands of their family members, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said.

Abdul-Mahdi told reporters late Tuesday that families of those fighters will also be brought back and that tent settlements will be prepared to host them. Abdul-Mahdi’s comments came after a meeting he held in Baghdad with acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said up to 20,000 Iraqis, including IS fighters, their families and refugees will be brought back home by April where many of them will live in a tent settlement in western Anbar province.

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