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

Talabani back in Baghdad

Karwan Youssef reports for AK News:

President Jalal Talabani landed in Baghdad on Saturday evening having undergone surgery in Germany.

Jalal Talabani returns to IraqA senior member of Talabani's party the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Fuad Masum told AKnews earlier that the President would return directly to Baghdad because the long heralded but slow to arrive national conference is depending on his leadership.

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Biden calls Iraqi leaders as bloodshed worsens

CNN reports:

As recent bloodshed raises fears of renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, U.S. Vice President Biden has been calling Iraqi leaders in an apparent attempt to soothe political tensions, the White House said Saturday.

Biden telephoned Iraqi Council of Representatives Speaker Osama Nujaifi on Saturday and, a day earlier, spoke with Dr. Ayad Allawi, a leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya political bloc.

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Reconciliation official escapes assassination in Samarra

Othman al-Shilshil reports for AK News:

Iraqi government’s National Reconciliation Official in Samaraa city, Salahaddin Province, survived an assassination attempt last night as unidentified gunmen attacked his house killing one and inuring the official.

A security source told AKnews that “the gunmen raided the house of Alaa Saih in Samaraa’s al-Howaish area last night. The attack resulted in the death of a visitor at Salih’s. Salih was also seriously wounded.”

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Interview with US Amb. James Jeffrey

Mayada Al Askari reports for Gulf News:

Iraq remains the most democratic country in the Middle East and fears that the country will turn into a federation of autonomous regions are misplaced, believes James Jeffrey, the US ambassador to Iraq.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Jeffrey also said that Iraq needs to have a liberal oil and gas law which clarifies many questions which international investors and companies are having so that they can come into Iraq and develop Iraq's oil sector.

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Iraq makes sanctions against Iran ineffective

Nima Khorrami Assi writes for the Guardian:

The US and EU have announced new sanctions in the hope of persuading Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons programme, though how effective these will be is questionable. China, India, Russia, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea have already refused to go along with the new measures. Iran also has the means to evade the sanctions – through its proximity to Iraq.

Iran has often been singled out as the main beneficiary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the biggest threat to Iraq's stability in the post-Saddam era. Iran's uninterrupted support for Shia militia groups in southern Iraq, particularly the Mahdi army, is seen as one indication of its involvement in Iraqi politics and its ability to cause problems for adversaries.

And yet Iran's key interest in Iraq is less about realpolitik than about trade. Iran is one of Iraq's most important regional economic partners, with an annual trade volume between the two sides standing at $8bn to $10bn (£5bn to £6.4bn). However, it is Iraq's 910-mile border with Iran, and therefore its geographical suitability as a smuggling hub for sanctioned goods, which is of paramount importance to Iran at present.

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Baghdad bomber kills 31

Saad Shalash reports for Reuters:

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-filled taxi near a Shi'ite funeral procession in Baghdad on Friday, killing 31 people and bringing the death toll from violence since an Iraqi political crisis erupted in December to more than 400.

The bomber exploded his vehicle near the group of mourners passing by a small market street in the mainly Shi'ite Zaafaraniya neighborhood in the south of the Iraqi capital, police officials and hospitals said.

The Shi'ite-led government often blames Sunni Islamist insurgents for attacks targeting Shi'ites, saying they are trying to stoke the kind of sectarian slaughter which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis at the peak of the war in 2006-2007.

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U.S. to Iraq: don’t “blow this opportunity”

Arshad Mohammed reports for Reuters:

The United States has warned Iraq not to "blow this opportunity" to become a prosperous, unified nation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday, saying it must start to act like a democracy and embrace compromise.

Iraq has suffered its worst political crisis in a year with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's move to arrest Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi last month, which has raised fears of renewed sectarian violence following the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Speaking in a question-and-answer session with State Department employees, Clinton said U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey has taken the lead in urging Iraqi politicians including Maliki, a Shi'ite, to settle their differences peacefully.

"He is constantly ... reaching out, meeting with, cajoling, pushing the players, starting with Prime Minister Maliki, not to blow this opportunity," she said. "This is an opportunity to have a unified Iraq and the only way to do that is by compromising."

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Iraq on the road to World Cup reports:

After an absence of almost eight years, Iraq are back in the final round of an Asian Zone FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. A spirited preliminary campaign has given the 2007 Asian champions real hope of going all the way to Brazil 2014, and few would be happier than their coach to see that happen.

The man in question is Artur Antunes Coimbra, better known to fans around the world as Zico. The former Brazil star has pedigree in Asian football, having guided Japan to Asian Cup glory in 2004 and later to a place at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. The 58-year-old has made an equally encouraging start to life in charge of Iraq, leading the Lions of Mesopotamia to the last round of Asian qualifying.

Ahead of the final matchday of round three on 29 February, Zico spoke to about his experience with Iraq so far and gave his predictions for the rest of the preliminary tournament.

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Iraq to take action after Haditha verdict

Mazin Yahya reports for the Associated Press:

Iraq will take legal action to ensure justice for the families of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians killed in a U.S. raid in Haditha seven years ago, a government spokesman said Thursday, after the lone U.S. Marine convicted in the killings reached a deal to escape jail time.

Residents in Haditha, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold of about 85,000 people along the Euphrates River valley some 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, have expressed outrage at the American military justice system for allowing Staff Sgt. Frank Wultrich to avoid prison.

"The Haditha incident was a big crime against innocent civilians," said Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi government. "We will follow up all legal procedures and judiciary measures" to seek justice in the case, he added.

Al-Moussawi did not offer specifics and the Iraqi Justice Ministry declined to comment.

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Shiite leader urges reconciliation

Selcan Hacaoglu reports for the Associated Press:

A top Iraqi Shiite official said Thursday that the political crisis pitting Shiite officials against his country's largest Sunni-backed bloc must end.

But Ammar al-Hakim, a powerful cleric and leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, did not offer any change in the legal challenge that started the standoff: An arrest warrant that Iraq's Shiite-led government filed against the Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, on terrorism charges, sending him into virtual exile to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Al-Hashemi's Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has responded by boycotting Iraq's parliament and Cabinet sessions, bringing government work to a standstill. Al-Hashemi denies charges of running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and refuses to return for trial in Baghdad.

"I want to invite Iraqiya to return to parliament and take its place in parliament," al-Hakim said during his visit to Turkey. "We say that we will examine their just demands and do whatever is necessary."

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