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

Iraqi VP calls Iran-backed militias his nation’s top threat

Stephen Braun writes for AP:

Iraq’s highest-ranking Sunni leader said Tuesday the growing influence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias looms as the nation’s most pressing future security threat and called for bolstering U.S. military aid to Sunni forces.

In Washington for talks this week with Trump administration officials and congressional leaders, Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi is hoping the administration will deliver on pledges to counter Iran’s growing influence inside Iraq and across the Middle East.

In remarks Tuesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, al-Nujaifi described Shiite militias in Iraq operating as a “parallel army” that could divide the nation even as Iraq’s military is driving out IS fighters with the aid of American troops.

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After Iraqi Kurdish Independence Vote Backfires, ‘I Do Not Regret It,’ Says Barzani

Jane Arraf writes for NPR:

There's a light rain falling in the hills around Masoud Barzani's palace north of Irbil. Last week, Barzani stepped down as president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq, a position he's held for 12 years. But the building, with its soaring staircases and footsteps of staff echoing through vast marble hallways, is still distinctly presidential.

Although no longer president, Barzani remains head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant party in the regional government. Crucially, he still leads Peshmerga fighters loyal to his party. And as one of the founders of modern-day Kurdistan, he retains enormous influence in many parts of this tribal region.

He walks into an interview with NPR — his first since Kurds went to the polls on September 25 — wearing his usual traditional Kurdish clothing, khaki baggy pants and a tunic with a cummerbund, along with the red and white headdress of his Barzan tribe. He has the bearing of the Kurdish fighter he cherishes as his core identity.

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UN official: Fight against IS in Iraq left huge destruction

AP reports:

A senior United Nations official says the fight against the Islamic State group has left behind massive destruction in Iraq and enormous planning and investment are needed for rebuilding.

Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Aisa Kirabo Kacyira told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the level of destruction in liberated areas “is really, really huge.” Kacyira is visiting Iraq to evaluate the destruction.

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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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