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

US State Department orders all non-essential government personnel to leave Iraq

The National reports:

The US State Department ordered all "non-emergency US government employees" to leave Iraq, the US mission there said on Wednesday.

The embassy said it could provide only limited emergency services to US citizens. Normal visa services at US offices in Baghdad and Erbil would be suspended.

US Central Command said on Tuesday that there is an increased risk to American forces and allies from Iranian-backed militias in the region. This ran counter to an assessment by a senior British general in the US-led mission to defeat ISIS who suggested there was no increased threat from Iranian proxies.

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In Iraq, Academics Restock Mosul’s Barren Bookshelves

AFP reports:

Watheq Mahmud is pursuing an advanced engineering degree but the textbooks he needs are often missing in his native Mosul, the Iraqi city where jihadists burned volumes and destroyed libraries.

To track down the books, he has had to travel 400 kilometres south to Baghdad, and even a further 600 kilometres to Basra.

"Everything is reversed today. Mosul used to be the hub for students and researchers from all across Iraq and the Arab world," said Mahmud, 33.

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Their caliphate gone, hidden militants wage nighttime war

Bram Janssen writes for AP:

It was a chilly January evening, and Khadija Abd and her family had just finished supper at their farm when the two men with guns burst into the room.

One wore civilian clothes, the other an army uniform. They said they were from the Iraqi army's 20th Division, which controls the northern Iraqi town of Badoush. In fact, they were Islamic State group militants who had come down from the surrounding mountains into Badoush with one thing on their mind: Revenge.

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Widows of Iraq’s war pick up the threads of fragmented lives

Kawa Omar writes for Reuters:

In a workshop in a bombed-out factory in Mosul, Najlaa Abdelrahman joins scores of other women on a production line as they sew garments and try to knit their lives back together.

The mother of three lost her husband during the war against jihadist group Islamic State, which occupied the northern Iraqi city as the capital of its self-declared caliphate until government forces recaptured it in summer 2017.

Most of the site was destroyed in the fighting, but the International Organization for Migration has managed to restore one section, where around 150 people - of whom 80% are women - now work, a fraction of the 1,020 it used to employ.

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Nation Building at Gunpoint

Thanassis Cambanis writes for The Atlantic:

There’s only one way in and out of this predominantly Sunni Muslim city: through the checkpoints of the Saraya al-Salam, one of Iraq’s most fearsome Shia militias. Samarra gained notoriety in 2006 as ground zero of Iraq’s sectarian civil war, and more recently as the hometown of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.

In recent years, however, a remarkable calm has taken root here. The city’s restive tribes have put aside historic feuds. Security forces have foiled Islamic State terror plots while preventing revenge attacks against ISIS sympathizers. The Askari Shrine, one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites, has been restored, after a 2006 attack, and is attracting more pilgrims than ever. Tourists from all over Iraq snap selfies at the Malwiya Tower, an Abbasid minaret that resembles a tiered wedding cake and is one of Iraq’s most famous monuments.

A visitor is hard-pressed to reconcile today’s orderly Samarra with the war zone it has largely been since the American invasion in 2003. The current calm is the product of the city’s unique experiment in nation building, or rebuilding, Iraqi-style.

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Blast rocks Baghdad marketplace, differing accounts on casualties

Reuters reports:

A blast rocked Baghdad’s northeastern Sadr City district on Thursday but accounts differed on whether it caused any casualties. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Police Colonel Jamal Hameed told Reuters a parcel had been found on the side of the road near a market and detonated in a controlled explosion, hurting no one.

He said an earlier statement by the joint military-police Baghdad Operations Command mentioning a suicide bomb and several deaths had been released in error.

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Iraq’s Militias, Accused of Threatening U.S., Pose a Quandary for Iraq

Alissa J. Rubin writes for The New York Times:

When the United States said this week that American forces in Iraq faced threats from Iranian “proxies,” it was referring to the armed groups that helped fight the Islamic State and have bedeviled Iraq ever since.

The Iraqi armed groups, some with ties to Iran, have a footprint in every Iraqi province. Whether they function as Iranian proxies, however, is far from settled.

“The word ‘proxy’ implies that these are tools of Iran, and they aren’t,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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Confining Families With Alleged ISIS Ties Unlawful

Human Rights Watch reports:

The Iraqi government should reject a plan that would unlawfully detain families with perceived Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation, Human Rights Watch said today. In early 2019, Iraq’s Implementation and Follow Up National Reconciliation Committee presented to Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi a proposal calling for the internment of up to 280,000 people, primarily women and their children.

“The Iraqi government proposal to confine alleged families of ISIS members not only violates international law but is also contrary to the government’s stated aim of reconciling populations post-ISIS,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Detaining families not accused of any crimes is a form of collective punishment that will fuel resentment and put the lives of thousands of people on endless hold.”

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Iraq economy has ‘opportunity’ after war and recovering oil prices

Sarmad Khan writes for The National:

While war-torn Iraq has turned a page after battling ISIS and a recovery in oil prices from a three-year slump provides impetus to move forward, the country still needs to address economic challenges, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The near-term vulnerabilities in Iraq subsided last year with a build-up in central bank reserves but the postwar reconstruction is limited and control on spending will curtail the country’s economic growth markedly, said the IMF.

“The end of the war with ISIS and a rebound in oil prices provide an opportunity to rebuild the country and address long-standing socio-economic needs. However, the challenges to achieving these objectives are formidable,” said IMF’s Gavin Gray, who led a consultation to the Iraqi government. “Combating corruption is critical to promote the effectiveness of public institutions and to support private-sector investment and job creation.”

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Iraq to Demand Cash for Islamic State Detainees

Jamie Dettmer writes for Voice of America:

Iraq is expected to make a formal request to Paris for financial support for the incarceration of French Islamic State suspects sent to Baghdad from Kurdish-controlled camps in northern Syria, say diplomats.

Fourteen alleged French jihadists have been sent to Baghdad for trial — they are likely to be joined by dozens of other French detainees. Other Western countries are also expected to take up the option to have their nationals, currently held by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces, sent to Iraq, thus avoiding having to repatriate them.

The Iraqi government hopes to get up to $2 billion in compensation from Western countries for trying their nationals, say analysts. An estimated 1,000 Western fighters are thought to be in the custody of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who have been urging, along with U.S. officials, for Western states to repatriate them and to put them on trial in their home countries.

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