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

Drug use, sales soar in Iraq’s Basra amid nationwide spike

Sinan Salaheddin writes for AP:

The rows of self-harm scars that course upward on the teenager’s forearms from her wrists nearly to her elbows are reminders of dark times.

At age seven, the now 19-year-old was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, a hereditary disease that comes with painful symptoms, including inflammation of the hands and feet and frequent infections. She became a regular visitor to a hospital where she was given Tramadol, an opioid medication that brought some relief.

Eventually, though, she began obtaining the medication even when there was no pain.

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Islamic State Returns to Guerrilla Warfare in Iraq and Syria

Raja Abdulrahim and Isabel Coles report for The Wall Street Journal:

Despite Syrian and Iraqi claims of victory over Islamic State, thousands of militants still holed up in both countries have mounted a number of recent guerrilla-style attacks on civilians and military forces, according to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the extremist group and others.

The fighters, hiding in isolated desert or mountain regions or among civilian populations in the neighboring countries, are stepping up hit-and-run style attacks now that they have lost much of the territory they seized several years ago, according to coalition officials, local activists and other experts.

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Crossing the river a major challenge in Iraq’s Mosul

AFP reports:

It used to take Ahmad Meyssar just a few minutes to reach his university across a bridge over the river Tigris in Iraq’s Mosul. But now — with whole districts still devastated some five months after Daesh was forced out — the journey takes him over two hours as most of the vital links between the two halves of the city remain in ruins.

Across the Nineveh region where Iraq’s second-largest city is located, some “90 percent” of the 70 bridges have been totally or partially destroyed, said Marwan Abderrazaq from the local roads department.

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A ‘martyr’ sniper becomes a hero to Iraq’s Shiites

Hamza Hendawi and Sinan Salaheddin write for AP:

Ali Jayad al-Salhi, a veteran sniper in an Iraqi militia, was killed in fighting with the Islamic State group earlier this year. He was then vaulted into legend, virtually becoming a new saint for the Shiite community.

Posters of al-Salhi adorn storefronts, homes and car windows in his home city of Basra and other Shiite areas. One bakery even sells cakes with his face. Poems praise his valor and piety. His rifle, with which he's said to have killed nearly 400 IS militants, is now in a museum in the holiest Shiite city, Karbala.

The fervor surrounding him points to the near messianic mystique that has grown up around Iraq's Shiite militias in tandem with their increasing political and military might after they helped defeat the Islamic State group. Known as the "Popular Mobilization Forces" or "Hashed" in Arabic, the militias — many of them backed by Iran — have emerged from the war with an image among Iraq's Shiite majority as virtually a holy force. The popular aura further buttresses the Hashed as it stands poised to play a major role in post-IS Iraq.

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Thousands remain missing after Iraq’s victories against IS

Susannah George writes for AP:

In 2014, Abdulrahman Saad was taken from his home in Mosul by Islamic State fighters, leaving his family in limbo.

They asked IS security offices and judges: Where is our husband and father? No answer. When the operation to retake Mosul began, they heard he was being held in the western part of the city, with hundreds of other prisoners. But when the area was liberated, they found no trace of Saad, the 59-year-old owner of a wholesale food store.

In their misery, they have company. Since Mosul was declared liberated in July, residents have submitted more than 3,000 missing-persons reports to Nineveh’s provincial council, according to council member Ali Khoudier. Most of them are men or teenage boys. Some were arrested by IS during the group’s extremist rule; others were detained by Iraqi forces on suspicion of extremist ties.

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From fighting ‘Islamic State’ to rotting in Iraqi jail

Karlos Zurutuza and Ferrán Barber write for Deutsche Welle:

On a blank sheet of paper, Marcos sketches the plan of the Kurdish prison where he spent 95 days in captivity.

"Just picture more than a hundred people inside a 65-square-meter [700 square foot] cell! We had to lie on our sides against each other to sleep, or even remain seated," the 47-year-old Spaniard told DW from his home in Rabanales, a village in northwestern Spain.

Marcos, whose codename was "Dr. Delil," was one of three Spaniards imprisoned last August in the Irbil General Security Directorate, a huge compound in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG). He had served as a paramedic in the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi armed group set up to protect this minority against radical Islamists, namely the "Islamic State" (IS) group.

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The Men Who Rescue Mosul’s Dead

John Beck writes for GQ:

The only firefighters in West Mosul, Iraq, switched on the siren as they drove a battered red truck through the ruins of their city. It was the morning of April 16, and they led a small convoy along roads gouged by bombs and partially blocked by collapsed buildings. The fighting was finished in this neighborhood, and the only other vehicles around were mangled wrecks. But the siren was an old habit, and it felt good to be back at work.

The firefighters, members of what is known in Iraq as the Civil Defense, parked by a colossal crater, and their chief, 47-year-old Colonel Rabie Ibrahim Hassan, started out on foot up an unpaved side street. Skinny, square-jawed Mohammed Shabaan hurried after him, clutching a small notebook. Around a dozen other men followed, guiding a crane and frontloader almost too large to fit between the buildings.

It had rained for weeks, but the day broke dry and hot and the now-still air smelled of corpses. The men pulled cheap surgical masks or respirators over their faces as they walked. They stopped in front of a heap of concrete and metal that had once been a pink two-story house. The background of gunfire and thud of mortar shells was louder here, as Iraqi forces clawed back ground from ISIS after an almost three-year occupation. Nobody seemed to notice the noise; it had been that way for months.

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Few ready to pay to rebuild Iraq after Islamic State defeat

Susannah George and Lori Hinnant write for AP:

For nearly 2½ miles along the western bank of the Tigris River, hardly a single building is intact. The warren of narrow streets of Mosul’s Old City is a crumpled landscape of broken concrete and metal. Every acre is weighed down by more than 3,000 tons of rubble, much of it laced with explosives and unexploded ordnance.

It will take years to haul away the wreckage, and this is just one corner of the destruction. The Iraqi military and U.S.-led coalition succeeded in uprooting the Islamic State group across the country, but the cost of victory is nearly incalculable.

Three years of war devastated much of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad estimates $100 billion is needed nationwide to rebuild. Local leaders in Mosul, the biggest city held by IS, say that amount is needed to rehabilitate their city alone.

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The Perils of a Post-ISIS Middle East

Joshua A. Geltzer writes for The Atlantic:

As 2017 draws to a close, the mood among leading pundits on the U.S.-led campaign to dislodge the Islamic State from Iraq and Syria might seem justifiably upbeat, even jubilant. After all, the accomplishments in the campaign’s first three years are many: eliminating key ISIS leaders, clearing the group from its so-called “dual capitals” of Mosul and Raqqa, and reducing the territorial safe havens from which it can plot attacks. It’s with some justification that, on December 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Iraq.

But it would be naïve to toast to victory as the new year dawns. That’s not just because the last mile of defeating a terrorist group can be the hardest one, as the United States learned all too well from the lingering remnants of ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. It’s also because regional challenges that Washington has suppressed by cultivating strategic ambiguity—deliberate vagueness in policy formulation that allows for different audiences to understand the same policy differently, thus allowing flexibility down the road—will become impossible to ignore and difficult to manage.

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Iraq: Yezidi Fighters Allegedly Execute Civilians

Human Rights Watch reports:

Yezidi fighters in Iraq allegedly forcibly disappeared and killed 52 civilians from the Imteywit tribe in June 2017, Human Rights Watch said today.

Relatives of victims told Human Rights Watch that on June 4, 2017, Yezidi forces detained and then apparently executed men, women, and children from eight Imteywit families who were fleeing fighting between the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) west of Mosul. Yezidi forces were also implicated in two other incidents of enforced disappearances of members of the Imteywit and Jahaysh tribes in late 2017.

“As the ground fighting against ISIS winds down in Iraq, state security forces need to turn their focus to preventing retaliation and upholding the rule of law,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Past atrocities against the Yezidis don’t give its armed forces a free pass to commit abuses against other groups, whatever their past.”

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