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

Islamic State has lost 90% of its territory in Iraq and Syria. Where in the world is Abu Bakr Baghdadi?

Alexandra Zavis writes for LA Times:

As an array of local and international forces close in on Islamic State’s last redoubts in Syria and Iraq, the whereabouts of the extremist group’s secretive leader remain a mystery.

A media outlet linked to the Syrian military reported Friday that Abu Bakr Baghdadi had been spotted in the eastern town of Bukamal during a recent offensive to recapture Islamic State’s last urban stronghold in Syria. But Baghdadi sightings have been reported before. So has his death. None of it has ever been confirmed.

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In Baghdad, signs of life back on the streets

Imran Khan writes for Al Jazeera:

What comes to mind when you think of Baghdad? A year ago the Iraqi capital was a scene of explosions, military checkpoints and armed men roaming the streets. Baghdad has suffered numerous attacks and security problems in the past several years.

I have been reporting from here extensively since 2011, and witnessed the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who captured huge swathes of the country three years later.

Putting aside the American occupation and invasion for a moment, the last few years have been incredibly violent for the city. However, I noticed a marked difference as I arrived back on an assignment.

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Shi’ites gather in Iraq’s Kerbala for mourning rite

Reuters reports:

Chanting and flailing themselves in mourning for Imam Hussein, hundreds of thousands of Shi‘ite Muslims from around the world gathered in the Iraqi city of Kerbala on Friday for one of the most sacred rituals in their religious calendar.

Arbain marks the culmination of a 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed who was killed in a 7th century battle in Kerbala.

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As caliphate crumbles, US builds outposts in western Iraq

Susannah George writes for AP:

The US-led coalition’s newest outpost in the fight against the Islamic State group is in a dusty corner of western Iraq near the border with Syria. Here, several hundred American Marines operate close to the battlefront, a key factor in the recent series of swift victories against the extremists.

The Americans directed Iraqi troops in their victory last week recapturing the nearby border town of Qaim, the militants’ last urban holding. Now the Marines will lead the equally difficult task of clearing the extremists from their last redoubt: a large stretch of empty desert north of the Euphrates River adjoining the border with Syria.

They also face the possibility of friction with Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias that are increasing their own presence in the border region.

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US congress seeks to impose sanctions on Shiite militias in Iraq

Mina Aldroubi writes for The National:

The United States has taken new steps to impose sanctions on Iranian proxy militias operating in Iraq.

A bill currently before the US congress and sponsored by Republican senator Ted Poe, contends that the As’aib Ahl Al Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hizballah Al Nujaba (Nujaba) militias have been funded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and mentored by Lebanese Hizbollah.

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Kurds displaced by Iraq advance fear reprisals if they return

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

Four hours after first hearing gunfire outside his home, Abu Riwar bundled his wife and six children into his car and drove to a remote village 120 km (75 miles) away.

“We left with the clothes on our back and nothing else,” said Abu Riwar, a member of the Kurdish security forces from the ethnically mixed town of Tuz Khurmato, seized last month by Iraqi troops and Iran-backed Shi’ite paramilitaries. “If the militias found out I was Peshmerga, they’d have slaughtered me.”

They burned his home to the ground instead, his neighbors, who captured it on camera, told him.

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The caliphate’s collapse: A look at Islamic State losses

AP reports:

The withdrawal of the Islamic State group from the last town under its control caps a series of major defeats in recent months that have virtually eliminated its self-styled caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The group still controls some small villages and scattered pockets of territory in Syria, but the border town of Boukamal, retaken by Syrian and Iraqi troops on Thursday, was the last major, built-up area held by the extremists.

The group's media arm remains intact, allowing it to recruit supporters and inspire attacks, and the militants are expected to continue carrying out bombings and other assaults in Syria and Iraq. But the caliphate they declared in 2014, which once took in more than 8 million people, is no more.

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Kurd Your Enthusiasm

Behnam Ben Taleblu and Merve Tahiroglu write for Foreign Affairs:

On October 16, the world woke to footage of the Iraqi army barreling toward Kirkuk, several hundred miles north of Baghdad. Their mission was to reclaim the city, but not from jihadists; rather, they planned to win it back from the Kurds. Three years ago, as the Islamic State (ISIS) tore into Iraq, the country’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) fought back against the fundamentalists and captured Kirkuk for itself. At the time, Baghdad reluctantly acquiesced. But by October 2017, Iraq’s central government was becoming anxious. Buoyed by Kirkuk’s oil revenues, the KRG had held a historic independence referendum in September. Washington quickly urged Baghdad not to move forward with any offensive against the Kurds. But the Iraqi army pressed toward Kirkuk anyway, relying on Iran-backed Shiite militias while also courting Turkish support.

In this saga of power dynamics and kaleidoscopically shifting rivalries, the United States is a key player. But its incomplete understanding of the regional dynamics harms both its own and its allies’ interests. Indeed, Washington’s understanding of the Kurds, in particular, is limited in that it is defined by a focus on the war against ISIS, as well as a reluctance to give up on Arab Iraq and its massive oil reserves. The United States has consistently failed to comprehend the fact that Kurdish independence is a direct threat to the territorial and political integrity of all the KRG’s neighbors, be they friend or foe of America, and that any U.S. policy toward the Kurds must therefore contemplate the wide-ranging implications of Kurdish autonomy rather than simply viewing the group as an instrument in the fight against ISIS.

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Sunni Iraq VP supports PM Abadi for second term with conditions

Yara Bayoumy writes for Reuters:

Iraq’s top Sunni Muslim politician said on Wednesday he would back Shi‘ite Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi for a new term as long as conditions such as bringing Shi‘ite militias under state control and balancing relations with other countries are fulfilled.

Osama al-Nujaifi, Baghdad’s Sunni Vice President, was in Washington for talks with senior State Department and congressional officials to discuss issues facing Iraq as the battle against Islamic State winds down.

Iraq will hold parliamentary elections on May 15. Abadi, who has not yet said whether he would seek a second term, took over the premiership in 2014 from Nuri al-Maliki, a close ally of Iran. Abadi is credited with quickly rebuilding the army and defeating Islamic State in its main Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, last July, with strong assistance from a U.S.-led coalition.

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Iraqis rebuild in Mosul after the defeat of ISIS

James Okungu and Lena Masri write for ABC News:

Mosul is springing back to life.

Almost five months after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over ISIS in Iraq’s second-largest city, residents are beginning to rebuild their lives.

As Mosul reels from the effects of the nearly three-year occupation by ISIS and the nine-month offensive to recapture the city, streets are bustling with residents shopping at local markets. Revelers have returned to cafes and classes have resumed for students.

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