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

Iraqi forces close in on IS redoubt in Mosul after declaring end of caliphate

Stephen Kalin reports for Reuters:

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces attacked Islamic State's remaining redoubt in Mosul's Old City on Friday, a day after hailing the end of the insurgents' self-declared caliphate with the capture of an historic mosque that symbolized their power.

Dozens of civilians, mostly women and children, fled across the frontline toward the troops as bullets whizzed through the air. They were thirsty and tired, and some had been wounded.

Commanders of Iraq's Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) cautioned that with the mostly non-Iraqi IS militants dug in among thousands of civilians and likely to fight to the death, the battle ahead remained challenging.

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Iraq’s Dilemma: Who Will Lead the Next Big Fight Against ISIS?

Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ali A. Nabhan write for The Wall Street Journal:

A political dispute threatens to complicate Iraq’s next big battle against Islamic State as the extremists face imminent defeat in Mosul: Both the U.S.-backed Iraqi military and Shiite militias supported by Iran want to spearhead the fight.

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ISIS Reverts to Insurgent Roots to Pose Long-Term Threat, Study Says

Eric Schmitt writes for The New York Times:

The Islamic State has carried out nearly 1,500 attacks in 16 cities across Iraq and Syria after they were declared freed from the militants’ control in recent months, providing new evidence that the group is reverting to its insurgent roots and foreshadowing long-term security threats.

The information was compiled by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in a study made public on Thursday that warns that any military gains will fall short without increased efforts to restore the security, governance and economies in territory once held by the Islamic State.

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Iraq declares end of caliphate after capture of Mosul mosque

Khaled al-Ramahi and Maher Chmaytelli report for Reuters:

After eight months of grinding urban warfare, Iraqi government troops on Thursday captured the ruined mosque at the heart of Islamic State's de facto capital Mosul, and the prime minister declared the group's self-styled caliphate at an end.

Iraqi authorities expect the long battle for Mosul to end in coming days as remaining Islamic State fighters are bottled up in just a handful of neighborhoods of the Old City.

The seizure of the nearly 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque -- from where Islamic State proclaimed the caliphate nearly three years ago to the day -- is a huge symbolic victory.

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In the Marshlands, ‘Another Face of Iraq’

John Otis writes for The New York Times:

After 18 months covering the battle against Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq, Emilienne Malfatto felt compelled to show a less-violent side of the war-torn nation. And she found one in Chibayish, a small district in the Mesopotamian marshes.

“When you say ‘Iraq,’ people just think war: the two wars in Baghdad or bombings,” Ms. Malfatto said. “But you also have this beautiful place with beautiful people. It’s like another face of Iraq.”

The marshlands, comprising a nearly 8,000-square-mile area, are at the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Their denizens, the Ma’dan — also known as the Marsh Arabs — live free from threats posed elsewhere by ISIS and militias.

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Iraqis wonder what will follow Islamic State in Mosul

Matthias von Hein writes for Deutsche Welle:

The collapse of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq's second largest city seems a foregone conclusion, despite reports by the UN's refugee agency that about 100,000 residents of Mosul are being used as human shields and that the fighting is especially brutal. More than 500,000 people have been displaced since the multifaction offensive to dislodge IS began last fall. And removing the group from northern Iraq will create a massive vacuum. It seems that no contingency plans were made as to who - or what - might fill it.

The factions already vying to do so include anti-terrorism units under the control of Iraq's prime minister; troops commanded alternately by Baghdad's defense and interior secretaries; diverse Shiite paramilitary groups from the Popular Mobilization Forces, some of which have links to Iran; peshmerga fighters dispatched by the governing Kurdistan Democratic Party in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region; peshmerga fighters sent by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and a number of regional Sunni tribes.

"Most everyone is in agreement that this essentially Arab city cannot be held for long by any Kurdish or Shiite groups," Rayk Hähnlein, of Berlin's German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW. "But what that means in practical terms remains unclear."

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Iraq’s Next Big Challenge: Asserting Control Over Its Borders

Brandon Louis Wallace writes for 1001 Iraqi Thoughts:

Last month, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a project for the development of Iraq’s first toll road along Highway 1. While some surely read the headline as a humble infrastructure project, the privatization and development of the highway reveals a larger, highly political confrontation.

Connecting Amman to Baghdad, Highway 1 is, for many, a requisite of commercial trade. When Daesh caused the road to seal its borders in 2015, Jordanian exports to Iraq fell from $1.16 Billion in 2014 to $690 million. For others, the road is a case study in corruption and disorder. Recently, PM Abadi himself publicly denounced the elements of organized crime in Western Anbar who extort drivers and bribe travelers for safe passage.

The privatization of the highway indicates a commitment from the central government to advance infrastructure and security.  But a larger question looms, with the end of an insurgency in sight, how does Iraq plan to assert control over its borders?

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The Battle for Mosul Enters Its Final Stage

Alan Taylor writes for The Atlantic:

Eight months ago, thousands of Iraqi and Kurdish troops, supported by the United States, France, Britain, and other western nations, began a massive operation to retake Iraq's second largest city of Mosul from ISIS militants. Now, after months of war, the Iraqi military says it has reached the final few days of the battle, having encircled an estimated 350 remaining Islamic State militants in Mosul’s Old City .

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U.N. goes stealth to help rebuild ISIS-ravaged Iraq

Kylie Atwood writes for CBS News:

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are close to tearing the city of Mosul out of ISIS' stranglehold. Once they do, the sprawling city will join dozens of other towns and villages that need to be rebuilt virtually from the ground up. A vast swath of northern Iraq is reeling from violence and destruction that has forced almost 900,000 people to flee their homes in the last year alone.

Efforts to bring those Iraqis back home are robust -- and unique; the United Nations has more than 800 stabilization efforts underway across the country -- work the U.N. has done in many countries following many conflicts. But this time, the work is aimed at building confidence in local governance as much as it is at rebuilding Iraq's shattered infrastructure.

U.N. equipment and supplies are not stamped with the instantly-recognizable blue globe insignia, and local Iraqi contractors are carrying out the work in the name of the Iraqi government, rather than foreign contractors. The U.N.'s new strategy is designed to minimize the promotion of its own work, and to instead quietly facilitate a "for the country, by the country" reconstruction.

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In Mosul’s Old City, Iraqi soldiers on foot fight last pocket of Islamic State

Stephen Kalin writes for Reuters:

Peering through a lookout hole at the Mosul frontline on Tuesday, Iraqi soldiers clad in black uniforms surveyed the last remaining patch of land controlled by Islamic State in the city's historic center.

Getting this deep into Mosul's Old City means soldiers from the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) must dismount from their armored Humvees and walk for 10 minutes down a maze of narrow alleyways which at some points are barely wider than a man.

Construction is so dense here that vehicles cannot pass and air strikes would likely cause too much collateral damage. The battle to retake Islamic State's de facto capital in Iraq has come down to a band of soldiers with assault rifles maneuvering on foot through the dusty heart of the city.

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