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

Mattis faces questions from allies on Islamic State strategy

Lolita C. Baldor writes for AP:

As the Islamic State group loses its remaining strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is facing a growing chorus of questions from NATO allies and partners about what the next steps will be in the region to preserve peace and ensure the militants don’t rise again.

Heading into a week of meetings with Nordic countries and allies across Europe, Mattis must begin to articulate what has been a murky American policy on how the future of Syria unfolds.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him to Finland, Mattis said the main question from U.S. allies is: what comes next? And he said the key is to get the peace process on track.

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Traditional carpet weaving in central Iraq unravels

AFP reports:

In the shadow of the Imam Hamza mosque in the region of the ancient kingdom of Babylon, a carpet market that was once bustling is now almost empty.

The only visitor to Hamad Al-Soltani’s small shop in the city of Al-Hamza in central Iraq, some 175 km south of Baghdad, is a local tribal chief.

Over the past few years, Iraq has been flooded with carpets from abroad — but although they may well be much cheaper they are of a far lower quality, he insists.

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The Slow Destruction Of Much-Loved Masgouf, An Iraqi National Dish

Peter Schwartzstein writes for NPR:

For centuries, Iraqis of all stripes, sects and political persuasions have gone to great lengths for masgouf, the country's de facto national dish. From the mountainous Kurdish north to the marshy, largely Shiite Arab south, Iraqis bond over this smoky, belt-busting extravagance, even when they can agree on nothing else.

Dredged from the brackish depths of the Tigris and Euphrates, the Fertile Crescent's two great rivers, the fish is a much-loved fixture of local cuisine. After whacking a large carp to death with a wooden mallet, emptying its guts and then lacing its skin with chunky salt crystals, chefs mount it on an iron spike, ready to be fire-roasted over wood-fueled flames.

But as with so many other things in Iraq right now, not all is well with the country's soul food.

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Iraq court rules no region can secede after Kurdish independence bid

Ahmed Rasheed writes for Reuters:

Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ruled on Monday that no region or province can secede, strengthening the government’s hand as it seeks to prevent a repeat of September’s Kurdish independence vote.

The ruling was a response to a request from the central government in Baghdad to put an end to any “wrong misinterpretation” of the constitution and assert the unity of Iraq, a court spokesman said.

Soon after, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi urged the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region to abide by the court’s decision.

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The female weightlifters from one of Iraq’s most notorious neighborhoods

Emilienne Malfatto writes for The Washington Post:

In Sight recently talked to photographer Emilienne Malfatto about her experience documenting the female weightlifters of Iraq’s Sadr City. Here’s what she had to say:

I started working in Iraq in 2014 as a special envoy for AFP (Agence France-Presse). A few months later, I moved to Iraqi Kurdistan as a freelancer. For almost two years, I covered the war against ISIS, then decided I needed a break from conflict, and started working in southern and central Iraq.

Sadr’s City female weightlifters is one of those stories you hear about and that stays in your mind. I first learned about the team reading an old AFP article. That was more than a year ago — but it took a very long time to get access. The girls and the coach were hard to locate, and the usual social media tracking didn’t work, and, given what Sadr City is, the “wandering and asking around” approach was not much of an option. I was stuck.

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Assaults in Syria and Iraq oust IS from border bastions

Albert Aji and Zeina Karam write for AP:

Syrian troops ousted Islamic State extremists Friday from Deir el-Zour, a major city in eastern Syria, while Iraqi forces retook Qaim, the group's last big town across the border in Iraq, in simultaneous assaults that dealt further territorial losses to the retreating militants.

With their self-proclaimed "caliphate" crumbling, the extremists have lost almost all their urban strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

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Two suicide attacks in Iraq’s Kirkuk kill at least five

Mustafa Mahmoud reports for Reuters:

Two suicide bombers killed at least five people and wounded more than 20 in an attack on a Shi‘ite mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Sunday, police and medical sources said.

It was the first such attack since the central Iraqi government in Baghdad seized Kirkuk last month from Kurdish forces that had controlled the oil city of a million people for three years.

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Report on the Protection of Civilians in the context of the Ninewa Operations and the retaking of Mosul City, 17 October 2016 – 10 July 2017

UNAMI and UNHRC report:

This report covers the period of the Ninewa military operations conducted by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), and affiliated armed groups—with air support provided by Operation Inherent Resolve1 and the Iraqi Air Force—to retake the city of Mosul and surrounding areas from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The operations lasted from 17 October 2016 to 10 July 2017 and were divided in three military phases.

The first phase of the operations to retake Mosul officially started on 17 October 2016, when Prime Minister and Commander of Iraqi Military Forces Haidar Al-Abadi, announced the launch of the military operation ‘Qademoun ya Ninewa’ to reclaim areas under ISIL control in Ninewa Governorate, including Mosul City. This first phase of the battle focused on districts and subdistricts of Ninewa Governorate, in particular rural areas in the approach to the city of Mosul. It was followed by the second phase—the battle for eastern Mosul, that started in mid-November 2016. On 24 January 2017, Prime Minister AlAbadi declared that ISF had retaken eastern Mosul. On 19 February 2017, ISF commenced the third and final phase of operations against ISIL in western Mosul. On 10 July 2017, Prime Minister Al-Abadi publicly announced from Mosul City that the third phase of the operations has been successfully completed with western Mosul totally reclaimed.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) monitored the human rights situation throughout the operations, with an emphasis on the impact of conduct of hostilities on civilians and civilian objects, and investigated over 650 incidents involving allegations of civilian casualties. This report depicts categories of violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law by parties to the conflict during the three phases of the operations.

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Iraqi forces enter al-Qaim in final offensive on Islamic State-held territory

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

Iraqi forces have entered al-Qaim, one of the last remaining territories in the country still held by Islamic State militants, the Joint Operations Command said on Friday.

Units from the Iraqi army, Counter-Terrorism Services, Sunni tribal and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation forces (PMF) are participating in an offensive to recapture al-Qaim and Rawa, two towns which lie on the border area with Syria.

Iraq’s security forces retook a border crossing with Syria from the militants, hours after entering al-Qaim, according to the Joint Operations Command.

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Iraqi Kurds’ Independence Vote Exposed Risks to Energy Strategy

Stanley Reed writes for The New York Times:

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have long sought to craft an energy policy independent of the federal government in Baghdad, courting international companies and offering lucrative deals to drill for potentially huge new reserves of oil and gas.

Then in September, Kurdish voters overwhelmingly chose to break free of Baghdad. But instead of stepping closer to nationhood, the Kurds were handed a humiliating setback: Iraqi troops seized the disputed city of Kirkuk and the oil fields around it. That loss of territory comes on top of worsening trends in the local oil sector and continued tensions between Kurdistan, a region in northern Iraq, and its neighbors.

Taken in concert, those factors raise questions about the Kurds’ strategy of achieving political independence through energy, which provides nearly of all the regional government’s revenue.

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