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

As ISIS Is Driven From Iraq, Sunnis Remain Alienated

David Zucchino writes for The New York Times:

After the Islamic State was finally driven from the central Iraqi city of Karmah last year, Sirhan Sallom returned to his home to find it demolished.

Mr. Sallom, 70, has since waited in vain for help. In Iraq’s deeply sectarian system, he doesn’t expect much from the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. But he is angry that local and national Sunni politicians haven’t come to the aid of his Sunni Muslim city either.

Fourteen years after the American invasion ended decades of Sunni dominance in Iraq, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs are struggling to reclaim relevance and influence. After they were ousted from government jobs and from the military by the post-Saddam Hussein government, their powerlessness and rage gave rise to Sunni militant movements like Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State.

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Debunking Myths About The Kurds, Iraq, And Iran

Denise Natali writes for War on the Rocks:

The Kurdish referendum in Iraq has failed spectacularly, despite predictions of beckoning independence. Many who relied on the trope that “statehood was not a matter of if but when” were shocked and unprepared for the referendum’s outcomes. Erroneous assumptions and policy prescriptions are now driving post-referendum analyses. Pundits, analysts, and the media are depicting the rapid re-taking of Kirkuk by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and other “disputed territories” as “a cataclysmic betrayal,” an “assault on the Kurds,” and another “victory for Iran.” While the U.S. policy response has thus far been measured – seeking to diffuse tensions and remain focused on defeating ISIL – some officials are calling to re-assess military support to Iraqi forces if attacks against Kurds continue. Others are pressing for more direct support to the Kurdistan Regional Government as a means of preventing further conflict and countering Iranian influence.

These voices ostensibly have the right priority – stabilization – but suffer from faulty assumptions about the actual sources of instability. Tensions between Baghdad and Erbil may have flared after the referendum, but they are rooted in the unresolved territorial and political issues of post-2003 Iraq. While it is certainly true that Iran and its militias have gained influence in Iraq, this influence is the result of a weak Iraqi state and was emboldened by the referendum, not by Baghdad’s effort to exercise its federal authority. As I discussed in this week’s episode of the War on the Rocks podcast, the solution is to reinforce Iraqi state sovereignty, Iraq’s regional relations, and recent trends toward a civil state. This includes negotiating disputed territories and filling political, economic, and security gaps that are enabling Iran and undisciplined militias to thrive.

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Iraq’s vast marshes, reborn after Saddam, are in peril again

Susannah George and Sam McNeil write for AP:

In the southern marshlands of Iraq, Firas Fadl steers his boat through tunnels of towering reeds, past floating villages and half-submerged water buffaloes in a unique region that seems a world apart from the rest of the arid Middle East.

The marshes, a lush remnant of the cradle of civilization, were reborn after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein when residents dismantled dams he had built a decade earlier to drain the area in order root out Shiite rebels. But now the largest wetlands in the Middle East are imperiled again, by government mismanagement and new upstream projects.

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Red Cross says has access to Islamic State families held near Mosul

Stephanie Nebehay writes for Reuters:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it had access to more than 1,300 foreign wives and children of suspected Islamic State militants following concerns expressed for the safety of the families held by Iraqi forces near Mosul.

The neutral aid agency called on all sides in the wars in Iraq and Syria to treat detainees in line with international law that prohibits torture or executions and enshrines the right to a fair trial.

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi faces big obstacles on road to rebuild war-torn nation

Nabih Bulos writes for LA Times:

At first glance, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi appears to be a strange fit to lead a country that has seen almost 40 years of continuous war. Unlike his predecessor Nouri Maliki, a Shiite whose sectarian excesses fueled the rise of Islamic State, Abadi is a man who would prefer to avoid confrontation.

Though he presided over the battlefield defeat of Islamic State (Iraqi troops are preparing for an assault on their remaining enclaves), he has stuck to a neutral course, steered the country away from involvement in regional conflicts even while working with the U.S. and Iran — who are archenemies — to prevent Iraq’s breakup.

But with Baghdad’s coffers almost empty, he now faces the difficult task of rebuilding Iraq, while trying to convince the country’s explosive mix of ethnic groups and sects to remain together.

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Iraq readies for final offensive on Islamic State near Syrian border

Reuters reports:

Iraqi forces are about to launch an offensive to recapture the last patch of Iraqi territory still in the hands of Islamic State, the military said on Wednesday.

“Your security forces are now coming to liberate you,” said leaflets dropped by the Iraqi air force on the western border region of al-Qaim and Rawa, according to a statement from the Joint Operations Command in Baghdad.

The militant group also holds parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of two sets of hostile forces - a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi‘ite militias backed by Iran and Russia.

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Iraq’s prime minister was tough on ISIS. But it was his approach to the Kurds that really made him popular.

Tamer El-Ghobashy and Mustafa Salim write for The Washington Post:

Once derided as a “traffic warden” by members of his own party, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has won public and political praise for sending troops to reclaim disputed territory after the Kurdish independence vote.

The action has earned the Iraqi leader the prestige that eluded him after successive victories against the Islamic State. Even some of his traditional critics have called his decision “wise” and “shrewd.”

By moving forcefully, Abadi has burnished his nationalist credentials and quieted potential challengers in next year’s elections who are backed by Iran and espouse policies of Shiite dominance, analysts and Iraqi politicians said.

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Iraq’s female booksellers turn the page on gender roles

Mustafa Saadoun writes for Al-Monitor:

With its shelves filled with books by Russian and Italian authors alongside contemporary Iraqi writers, Books Town provides a welcome refuge in Baqubeh in Diyala governorate, which is known for sectarian violence and the Islamic State (IS).

The bookstore, which is a frequent stop for many intellectuals in Diyala governorate, is owned by Tayseen Ameer, a 31-year-old engineer. A woman who runs a bookstore is a rarity in the area but this has not stopped Ameer, who was dismayed that only a few bookstores cater to customers sitting down and reading.

“I wanted to spare local readers the effort of traveling all the way to Baghdad to buy books,” Ameer told Al-Monitor.

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It’s Too Early To Pop Champagne In Baghdad: The Micro-Politics Of Territorial Control In Iraq

Erica Gaston and Andras Derzsi-Horvath write for War on the Rocks:

“What government?” scoffed Abu Ali, a local Turkmen force commander affiliated with the League of the Righteous, a powerful Iranian-backed Shi’a militia, when we asked whether he took orders from Iraqi forces or the central government. He lumped all Sunni Arabs in with the extremists who had abused his Shi’a sub-community in Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk, and disparaged the Kurds as “backstabbers” and “cheats” who had done too little to stop the extremists and then manipulated the fight against ISIL to seize control. He saw few solutions other than to purge this historically multi-ethnic community of all except Shi’a Turkmen, and while he might be restrained by the head of the League of the Righteous or other senior commanders of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), there was nothing the Iraqi government could do to stop him.

These are the types of problems Baghdad assumed when Iraqi forces and their allies flipped Kirkuk, its nearby oil fields, and other parts of the Disputed Territories from Kurdish to Iraqi control last week. Coming on the heels of the retaking of Mosul, Iraqi forces’ gains this past week may seem like an unequivocal positive for the state’s efforts to reassert territorial control and state authority. But our recent research mapping sub-state forces in Iraq suggests that many of the territories the government reassumed control of are diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-sectarian communities pump-primed for violence – and Baghdad has little leverage to stop it.

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Fresh evidence that tens of thousands forced to flee Tuz Khurmatu amid indiscriminate attacks, lootings and arson

Amnesty International reports:

Satellite images, videos, photos and dozens of testimonies collected by Amnesty International show that civilians were forced to flee their homes after fierce clashes erupted between Iraqi government forces, supported by the Popular Mobilization Units, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq’s multi-ethnic city of Tuz Khurmatu on 16 October 2017.

Residents reported that at least 11 civilians were killed by indiscriminate attacks, while hundreds of properties were looted, set on fire and destroyed in what appears to be a targeted attack on predominantly Kurdish areas of the city.

“Within hours the lives of countless men, women and children were devastated in Tuz Khurmatu. Thousands have lost their homes, shops and everything they owned. They are now scattered in nearby camps, villages and cities, wondering whether they will ever be able to return,” said Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research for the Middle East at Amnesty International.

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