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

Thousands more US military service members in Iraq and Syria than believed

Luis Martinez writes for ABC News:

Thousands more American troops are serving in Iraq and Syria than has been previously acknowledged by the Pentagon, a new report finds.

According to the Defense Manpower Data Center's quarterly report from September, there were 1,720 American troops in Syria -- three times as many as the 503 troops in Syria that U.S. military spokesmen have told reporters. The Pentagon's personnel agency issues quarterly reports about how many American troops are serving in individual states and overseas countries.

The same report showed there were 8,992 American troops in Iraq, almost 3,500 more than the official Department of Defense tally of 5,262.

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Iraqi Security Forces Pivot From Offensive Warfare To Counter Insurgency

J. Ramirez writes for 1001 Iraqi Thoughts:

On November 17th, 2017, the Iraqi Army’s 7th and 8th  Divisions crossed the Euphrates at 7:30 a.m. local time and stormed the town of Rawa in Western Anbar. The fighting would last roughly five hours and the liberation of the town would represent the erasure of the so-called Caliphate due to Rawa being the last urban stronghold under the control of ISIS since 2014. Freeing Rawa meant that the so-called Islamic State  had been defeated militarily in Iraq. With the bulk of the terrorist forces pulling back northwards towards Badia Ba’aj, a steppe that is roughly 22,000 km2 in size and stretches from just south of the town of Ba’aj in Ninawa province to parts of the Euphrates river in Western Anbar, it had become necessary to launch a follow-up operation to destroy the terrorists’ hideouts deep in the desert.

Many wonder what comes next. The security situation in Iraq has slowly improved in recent years, thanks to coordination between local law enforcement and military intelligence to facilitate the capture of weapons bound for ISIS sleepers as well as neutralizing attacks as quickly as possible before the group inflicts maximum casualties. In liberated areas, ISIS has already reverted to insurgent tactics meant to harass local forces, but they are unable to regain control of villages due to the quick responsiveness of local Popular Mobilization Units after they are contacted by local residents. Ultimately, counter insurgency operations will serve as an effective method of degrading ISIS capabilities to the point that they will no longer pose a threat in each province (Ninawa, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Anbar).

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Iraq launches operation to clear desert near Syria of Islamic State

Ahmed Rasheed writes for Reuters:

Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to clear the desert bordering Syria of Islamic State in a final push to rid Iraq of the militant group, the military said.

Troops from the Iraqi army and mainly Shi‘ite paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were taking part in the campaign against militants hiding in a large strip of border land, Iraqi military officials said.

“The objective behind the operation is to prevent remaining Daesh groups from melting into the desert region and using it as a base for future attacks,” said army colonel Salah Kareem, referring to Islamic State by an Arabic acronym.

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UN urges Iraq to probe troop violations during fight with IS

Sinan Salaheddin writes for AP:

A top United Nations official Thursday called on the Iraqi government to speed up investigations into allegations of human rights violations committed by security forces during the fight against the Islamic State group and to make the results of those probes public.

Concluding an official visit to Iraq, Agnes Callamard, the U.N.'s special investigator on extra-judicial executions, stressed to the Iraqi officials on "the importance of translating the military defeat over ISIS into victories for accountability and over impunity." ISIS is another acronym for IS.

Callamard told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq's new "transition phase" presents "both opportunities and challenges" and that the government should "respond effectively and impartially to allegations of violations in order to build and strengthen confidence."

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Iraqi militia indicates will hand heavy guns to army after Islamic State quashed

Ahmed Aboulenein writes for Reuters:

A prominent Iraqi militia indicated on Thursday it would give any heavy weapons it had to the military once Islamic State was defeated and rejected a proposed U.S. congressional bill designating it a terrorist group.

Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, which has about 10,000 fighters, is one of the most important militias in Iraq. Though made up of Iraqis, it is loyal to Iran and is helping Tehran create a supply route through Iraq to Damascus.

The Nujaba fights under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shi‘ite militias that played a role in combating Islamic State.

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Iraq to resume payments of Gulf War reparations to Kuwait, said UN

The National reports:

Iraq has agreed to resume payments from its oil revenues to compensate fully the $4.6 billion (Dh16.9 billion) still owed to Kuwait for destruction of its oil fields and facilities during the 1990-91 Gulf War, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Payments from the UN fund, which were suspended since October 2014 due to security and budgetary challenges faced by Iraq in its fight against ISIL, will begin with 0.5 percent of its oil proceeds in 2018 and escalate annually until the end of 2021, the UN Compensation Commission said.

"Based on oil price and export projections, this would result in payment in full of the outstanding claim award," the UNCC said in a statement issued in Geneva.

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On the Iraq border archaeological digs are a minefield – in every sense

Mary Shepperson writes for The Guardian:

Modern conflict archaeology, the study of 20th and 21st century conflicts, is a new and slightly uncomfortable discipline in the world of archaeology. It’s problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, very little of it involves what most people would recognise as archaeology – digging up cultural material from the ground for study. Most of the material legacies of modern conflicts remain above ground and embedded in current society, necessitating a more anthropological, interdisciplinary approach. Secondly, the time periods under study are often within living memory, and often remain highly contentious within the affected regions. This means that modern conflict archaeology can be a political minefield – as well as an actual minefield.

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Truck bomb in northern Iraq kills at least 23

Mustafa Mahmoud reports for Reuters:

At least 23 people were killed and 60 wounded when a suicide bomber set off a truck bomb near a crowded marketplace in the northern Iraqi town of Tuz Khurmatu, police and medical sources said on Tuesday.

An interior ministry spokesman said a “violent explosion” took place near a vegetable market in the town, south of Kirkuk, but did not immediately provide casualty figures.

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Why Some Iraqi Officials Want Elections Delayed

Hamzeh Hadad writes for 1001 Iraqi Thoughts:

The Iraqi cabinet and parliament have confirmed that federal and provincial elections will be held on May 15, 2018 despite the call to postpone elections from various political leaders. Provincial elections have usually been held a year prior to the federal election but due to logistical, economic and political reasons, the provincial elections were postponed a year to coincide with the federal election. This was the first time outside the Kurdistan Region that elections were postponed in the new Iraq, and despite the dangerous precedent it could set, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has ensured they would not be postponed any further. Abadi reminded those pushing for postponement that Iraq has held elections in tougher times and so there would be no excuse now that the country is rid of Da’ish to hold the elections within the mandate set out for the federal election.

Despite Abadi’s insistence to hold elections within the constitutional mandate set out for parliament, there are many political parties that are pushing for the elections to be postponed. Iraq’s former parliament speaker and currently one of three Vice Presidents, Osama Al-Nujaifi, reiterated this desire in his recent visit to Washington. Nujaifi claimed: “It is unreasonable to run the elections under the shadow of the spread of all these weapons or with the displacement of millions of people … This will distort these elections.” These concerns may be sound but come under the disguise of fear of losing significant political support due the lack of popularity amongst Nujaifi’s political party in his home province of Nineveh. Other political parties that share the same sentiment have the same fear of unpopularity after their failures to deliver services and leadership on the provincial level.

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Kurds, Warning of Hostilities in Iraq, Appeal for a U.S. Envoy

Ben Kesling writes for The Wall Street Journal:

The Iraqi Kurdish government has asked the U.S. to appoint a special envoy to mediate a deepening and potentially dangerous dispute between the central government in Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdish region, a top Kurdish official said Monday.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, the head of foreign relations for Iraqi Kurdistan, told The Wall Street Journal that he has approached U.S. officials with a request for the Americans to do more to address friction between Baghdad and the Kurdish government in Erbil.

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