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

Iraqi Forces Close In on Islamic State Stronghold

Isabel Coles and Ghassan Adnan write for The Wall Street Journal:

Iraqi forces started an assault on the city of Hawija in a dawn offensive on Friday, part of their effort to rout Islamic State militants from their two remaining strongholds in the country.

The advance comes hours before Baghdad is expected to implement a ban on all international flights to and from Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region in retaliation for this week's referendum.

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Islamic State’s Baghdadi, in undated audio, urges militants to keep fighting

Nadine Awadalla and Eric Knecht write for Reuters:

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has exhorted followers across the world to wage attacks against the West and to keep fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The message released on Thursday was his first purported audio communication in almost a year during which his jihadist group lost much of its self-proclaimed “caliphate”.

The audio, partly dedicated to religious scriptures, came after several reports Baghdadi had been killed. His last recording was in November 2016, two weeks after the start of the battle to recapture the city of Mosul from Islamic State (IS).

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Islamic State’s deadly drone operation is faltering, but U.S. commanders see broader danger ahead

W.J. Hennigan writes for Los Angeles Times:

U.S. airstrikes and local militias in eastern Syria have hobbled Islamic State's deadly drone program, U.S. officials say, but counter-terrorism experts warn that the terrorist group’s innovative use of the inexpensive technology may spur other aerial attacks around the globe.

A specially trained unit of Islamic State pilots flew small quadcopters and model-plane-sized drones, sometimes a dozen or more at a time, to stream live video of U.S.-backed ground forces and to drop crude munitions on them in both Iraq and Syria.

It was, U.S. officials later acknowledged, perhaps the first time since the Vietnam War when the American military was largely powerless against enemy aircraft — in this case aircraft only a tiny fraction the size of U.S. warplanes.

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The year after ISIS

Kareem Fahim writes for The Washington Post:

Soldiers descended on a gathering of villagers at a roadside kiosk and quickly drew their guns. An accusation led to words, words led to scuffles and finally, an act of humiliation that was expected and intolerable at once. The soldiers viciously dragged two young men from the village to a waiting car, slapping their heads as their fathers watched.

“They represent the government,” said Khalid Saleh, an aid worker, who stood among a seething crowd watching the soldiers a few weeks ago. “The problem is, they consider us all Islamic State.”

The scene in Muneira, on the Tigris River in northern Iraq, offered a glimpse into the struggles of one Sunni Arab village in the year since the government drove the militants away: a place beset by suspicions, troubled by violence while coping, like much of the country, with death and loss.

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Iraq: Investigate Abuses in Hawija Operation

Human Rights Watch reports:

Iraqi villagers have accused units within the Iraqi government’s armed forces of abuses in the ongoing battle to take the city of Hawija, Human Rights Watch said today. Units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (known as the PMF or Hashd al-Sha'abi) affiliated with the Badr Organization detained and beat male villagers in a nearby village and took away four men without telling the men’s families where they were being taken or why, villagers told Human Rights Watch.

Because of the PMF history of gross abuses, including war crimes, in previous operations, before the battle for the northern city of Mosul began in October 2016, United Nations senior officials and diplomats said that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had made a commitment to the international community to keep PMF units out of Mosul, and away from the screening process. However, he has permitted the PMF to play a more prominent role not only in the fighting but also in screening and detaining people during military operations. The Iraqi government should uphold its commitment not to allow PMF or any other units with an abusive track record, including forces affiliated with the Badr Organization, to participate in screening or detaining anyone, Human Rights Watch said.

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Soccer returns to Mosul after three-year ban

Mustafa Saadoun writes for Al-Monitor:

Three years after the world’s most popular sport was banned in Mosul by the Islamic State (IS), soccer has returned to the city the terrorist group had claimed as its capital.

A soccer game between Mosul FC and the Ninevah police soccer team was held Aug. 29 in the liberated city of Mosul, on a field damaged by shelling and surrounded by dilapidated buildings, bleachers in disrepair and a few fans.

Nashwan al-Hamdani, a resident of Mosul, told Al-Monitor, “Seeing this feels strange. We have not had a soccer game here in three years.”

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Turkey says air force kills 13 in north Iraq air strike

Reuters reports:

Turkish jets struck a target in northern Iraq on Wednesday, killing 13 suspected Kurdish PKK fighters, the armed forces said in a statement.

“In an air strike in northern Iraq, 13 armed members of a separatist terrorist organization preparing for an attack were neutralized,” the statement said, using a term which Turkey uses to describe Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

The PKK has been waging an insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast since the 1980s, but also has bases across the border in northern Iraq which Turkey regularly targets.

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Islamic State Fighters Attack Iraqi Forces in Ramadi

Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles write for The Wall Street Journal:

Islamic State militants attacked the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on three fronts Wednesday, clashing with security forces even as Iraq’s army routs the terror group from its few remaining strongholds in the country.

The attack comes as Iraqi forces wage dual offensives to recapture western Anbar province, of which Ramadi is the capital, and the Hawija pocket in the country’s north—the last two major areas held by Islamic State, which seized around one-third of the country in a 2014 blitz.

Security officials in Ramadi said the insurgents had tricked Iraqi forces by pretending to be tribal fighters, enabling them to infiltrate parts of the city, some 55 miles west of Baghdad.

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The Economic Case Against an Independent Kurdistan

Alex Dziadosz writes for The Atlantic:

On a highway outside Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Alwa wholesale vegetable and fruit market was plastered with banners urging Kurds to vote “yes” in yesterday’s independence referendum. Just below them, the origin of trucks pulling in with sacks of tomatoes, apples, and peppers, hinted at how big a gamble the vote may prove to be: Many were stamped with addresses in Turkey, which has condemned the referendum. Others came from Iran, which is just as strongly opposed. When I asked a young trader what would happen if these countries shut their borders to pressure Kurdistan’s regional government—as they have threatened to dohe shook his head. “The market would die,” he said.

Independence is a lifelong dream for many Iraqi Kurds, who suffered horribly under Saddam Hussein, and so Monday’s referendum was met with understandable jubilation in Erbil, a stronghold of President Masoud Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the force behind the vote. Initial results suggested turnout was high, with over 90 percent voting for secession. Rhetoric has escalated sharply since then, with Baghdad urging neighboring countries to shut down flights into the region—so far, only Iran complied—while demanding that the regional government hand over control of its airports and border crossings by Friday or face a blockade. Turkey, which fears stirring separatism among its own Kurdish population, has threatened similar action. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the vote “treachery” and suggested the region would "not find food or clothing" if its sanctions were implemented.

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Iran’s leaders opposed Kurdish independence vote in Iraq. Iran’s Kurds celebrated on the streets.

Erin Cunningham writes for The Washington Post:

Nearly every Middle East government was opposed to Monday's vote for independence in the Kurdish region of Iraq. But not so just across the border in the cities and towns of western Iran.

There, thousands of Iranian Kurds, jubilant for their Iraqi kin, staged demonstrations in support of the vote. (Iran is home to roughly 8 million Kurds. The rest of the region's Kurdish population is spread across Iraq, Syria and Turkey.)

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