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

The Untold Quiet of Kurdish Iraq

Kenneth R. Rosen writes for The New York Times:

A serpentine river gently cuts through a mountain plateau. Shepherds tend their flock while young men hunt wild game, fish along ancient tributaries or kayak over rapids. This pleated landscape of rolling hills and jagged mountains is most verdant in spring, when the junipers are full, the grass a vibrant emerald.

These quiet moments and images are not often associated with Iraq. But the Kurdish region, in the country’s northern reaches, is home to such reprieves. Beyond the oil fields of Taqtaq and Kirkuk, far east of Mosul and many miles north of Baghdad, the semiautonomous region often feels timeless and progressive, restive and at peace.

What the Vietnamese photographer Lam Duc-Hien first imagined of Iraq before traveling there on assignment were the usual media tropes from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — tanks and violence, surges and refugees. Mr. Lam, who was working for nongovernment organizations and a French newspaper, said he had never heard of the Kurdish people, who by then were fleeing Saddam’s oppressive and violent Baath Party. But after he settled down in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, a region he documented for more than two decades, he found the country to be vastly different than what he had expected.

Click here for the entire story

America Never Understood Iraq

Robert Ford writes for The Atlantic:

Days after the Kurdish Region of Iraq held a controversial independence referendum, Baghdad sent army and militia units to attack Kurdish positions in and around Kirkuk in the disputed territories. Such swift, aggressive action demonstrated Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s insistence that Iraqi Kurds will remain a part of his country, by whatever means necessary. Now, we are seeing the first repercussions: Long-time Kurdish Region President Masoud Barzani, who pushed for the referendum, resigned on October 29, sparking riots in the Kurdish capital of Erbil and other Kurdish cities, and launching new recriminations among Kurds and between Arabs and Kurds.

For America, the short, sharp fighting in northern Iraq has revealed a brutal truth: Its dream of a democratic and federal, united Iraq is over. Ironically, that dream dies just as the Americans and their allies are winning major battlefield victories against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Raqqa, the capital of ISIS, fell to a U.S.-sponsored battlefield coalition of Syrian Arabs and Kurds. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, meanwhile, captured Hawija, one of the last ISIS strongholds in the country. But as the fighting shows in Iraq and foreshadows in Syria, Washington never had a political plan to deal with the underlying ethnic and sectarian contests for power that originally gave birth to ISIS.

Click here for the entire story

Their caliphate in ruins, IS militants melt into the desert

Bassem Mroue writes for AP:

Islamic State militants, routed from one urban stronghold after another in Syria, have recently been moving deeper into Syria's remote desert, where experts say they are regrouping and preparing their next incarnation.

The desolate landscape is a perfect hideout and a second home for many IS militants from the days before the birth of their caliphate. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to mount search operations — and even more to put the desert under permanent control.

Click here for the entire story

Canada suspending special forces operations in Iraq

Jeff Lagerquist reports for CTV News:

Canadian Special Operation Forces soldiers are halting their “advise-and-assist” co-operation with Iraqi and Kurdish troops under Operation Impact, the U.S.-led multinational coalition that has recently made significant inroads against ISIS strongholds in the region.

Canada’s decision to stand down comes amid escalating tensions between Irbil and Baghdad following the Kurdish “yes” vote on autonomy from Iraq last month. The controversial independence referendum has caused a rift between the one-time allies against ISIS, and put foreign coalition partners in the awkward position having to navigate regional politics.

Canada has worked with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in an “advise-and-assist” capacity as part of Operation Impact since joining the coalition to defeat ISIS in 2014. The mission was to train both to be more effective against ISIS, and provide them with real time battlefield strategy.

Click here for the entire story

Iraq orders truce with Kurds to allow peaceful deployment at border crossings

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered a 24-hour suspension to military operations against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, to allow for the peaceful deployment of Iraqi troops at the border crossings with the Kurdistan region.

A Kurdish spokesman earlier said the two sides reached an agreement on Friday to stop fighting which broke out on Oct. 16, after Iraqi forces seized the oil-city of Kirkuk.

Click here for the entire story

The waterkeeper of Iraq

Kenneth R. Rosen writes for Al Jazeera:

Along the Little Zab River that cuts through the Iraqi town of Taqtaq, families picnicked on a recent weekday afternoon. Children frolicked in stalls overlooking the tributary, while a pair of boats gently bobbed in the rushing current.

Little Zab is part of a complex network of waterways that feed Iraq's Kurdish region and, by extension, the entire country. What first passes through the semi-autonomous region to the north, eventually travels a serpentine route to connect with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which wend their way past cities such as Mosul and Baghdad. Further south towards the Gulf is Basra and the lush waterways named by UNESCO as a heritage site.

But water scarcity is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the northern region. If neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria move forward with plans to repair existing dams or build new ones - such as the Daryan Dam on the Sirwan River in Iran, scheduled for completion next year - water flow to Kurdish land will be in increasing jeopardy.

Click here for the entire story

Islamic State shores up last stronghold on Syria-Iraq border

Sarah Dadouch writes for Reuters:

Islamic State is building up its defenses in a pocket of territory on the Syrian-Iraqi frontier, the U.S.-led coalition said on Friday, in an anticipation of assaults by Syrian and Iraqi forces aiming to snuff out the jihadists’ last stronghold.

Iraq launched an offensive on Thursday to capture the last Iraqi territory held by Islamic State, the areas of Rawa and al-Qaim, a town just over the border from the Syrian town of Albu Kamal, which is also held by the jihadists.

“Right now, we are seeing the buildup of (IS) defenses in both al-Qaim and in Albu Kamal,” Colonel Ryan Dillon told Reuters by phone, adding that Islamic State’s leadership had shifted to Albu Kamal from towns deeper into Syria.

Click here for the entire story

As ISIS Is Driven From Iraq, Sunnis Remain Alienated

David Zucchino writes for The New York Times:

After the Islamic State was finally driven from the central Iraqi city of Karmah last year, Sirhan Sallom returned to his home to find it demolished.

Mr. Sallom, 70, has since waited in vain for help. In Iraq’s deeply sectarian system, he doesn’t expect much from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. But he is angry that local and national Sunni politicians haven’t come to the aid of his Sunni Muslim city either.

Fourteen years after the American invasion ended decades of Sunni dominance in Iraq, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs are struggling to reclaim relevance and influence. After they were ousted from government jobs and from the military by the post-Saddam Hussein government, their powerlessness and rage gave rise to Sunni militant movements like Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State.

Click here for the entire story

Debunking Myths About The Kurds, Iraq, And Iran

Denise Natali writes for War on the Rocks:

The Kurdish referendum in Iraq has failed spectacularly, despite predictions of beckoning independence. Many who relied on the trope that “statehood was not a matter of if but when” were shocked and unprepared for the referendum’s outcomes. Erroneous assumptions and policy prescriptions are now driving post-referendum analyses. Pundits, analysts, and the media are depicting the rapid re-taking of Kirkuk by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and other “disputed territories” as “a cataclysmic betrayal,” an “assault on the Kurds,” and another “victory for Iran.” While the U.S. policy response has thus far been measured – seeking to diffuse tensions and remain focused on defeating ISIL – some officials are calling to re-assess military support to Iraqi forces if attacks against Kurds continue. Others are pressing for more direct support to the Kurdistan Regional Government as a means of preventing further conflict and countering Iranian influence.

These voices ostensibly have the right priority – stabilization – but suffer from faulty assumptions about the actual sources of instability. Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil may have flared after the referendum, but they are rooted in the unresolved territorial and political issues of post-2003 Iraq. While it is certainly true that Iran and its militias have gained influence in Iraq, this influence is the result of a weak Iraqi state and was emboldened by the referendum, not by Baghdad’s effort to exercise its federal authority. As I discussed in this week’s episode of the War on the Rocks podcast, the solution is to reinforce Iraqi state sovereignty, Iraq’s regional relations, and recent trends toward a civil state. This includes negotiating disputed territories and filling political, economic, and security gaps that are enabling Iran and undisciplined militias to thrive.

Click here for the entire story

Iraq’s vast marshes, reborn after Saddam, are in peril again

Susannah George and Sam McNeil write for AP:

In the southern marshlands of Iraq, Firas Fadl steers his boat through tunnels of towering reeds, past floating villages and half-submerged water buffaloes in a unique region that seems a world apart from the rest of the arid Middle East.

The marshes, a lush remnant of the cradle of civilization, were reborn after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein when residents dismantled dams he had built a decade earlier to drain the area in order root out Shiite rebels. But now the largest wetlands in the Middle East are imperiled again, by government mismanagement and new upstream projects.

Click here for the entire story