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

A country called Kurdistan?

Tom Westcott writes for IRIN:

In northern Iraq’s main city of Erbil, the green, white, and red striped flag of Kurdistan, with its cheerful yellow sun emblem, is everywhere. It hangs on food stalls, homes, public and government buildings; it even hangs from taxi rear-view mirrors. But nearly a century after early Kurdish nationalists introduced the tricolor at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, it still belongs to no state.

Kurdish leaders hope to change this on 25 September, when the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) puts independence to a vote in a referendum that could create the world’s 194th country (196 if you include Palestine and the Holy See).

Although a ‘yes’ is the expected outcome of the referendum, with most Iraqi Kurds in favour of the idea of independence, if not the timing of the vote, it remains contentious. Iraq, the United States, Iran, and Turkey have all come out against the referendum, and it is not clear how much popular support the idea of holding the poll this month has amongst ordinary Kurds.

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ISIS is near defeat in Iraq. Now comes the hard part.

Liz Sly and Aaso Ameen Schwan write for The Washington Post:

The collapse of the Islamic State in its most important Iraqi strongholds has brought a rare moment of hope for a country mired in war for most of the past four decades.

It is also a moment of peril, as Iraq emerges from the fight against the militants only to be confronted with the same problems that fueled their spectacular rise in 2014.

Old disputes between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds over territory, resources and power already are resurfacing as the victors of the battles compete to control liberated areas or jostle for political advantage in the post-Islamic State landscape.

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Iraq sentences Russian national to death for IS links

Qassim Abdul-Zahra reports for AP:

Baghdad’s central criminal court sentenced a Russian national to death by hanging for his membership in the Islamic State group, the court said in a statement.

The man was arrested as Iraqi forces pushed the extremist group out of Mosul’s western half, according to the statement released late Tuesday. The fight for Mosul’s west was the second phase of the operation to retake Iraq’s second largest city from IS that was launched in October of last year and declared complete in July.

The individual was tried under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law and confessed to carrying out “terrorist operations” against Iraqi security forces since 2015, said Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for Iraq’s supreme judicial council.

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Rich tycoon takes on Iraqi Kurdish leaders over independence

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

On the eve of an independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, one man is campaigning against a “Yes” vote which he fears could stoke tension in the Middle East.

With the 5 million Kurds in Iraq who are eligible to vote united by dreams of statehood, the outcome of the Sept. 25 referendum in the autonomous region in northern Iraq is in no doubt.

But with Baghdad making clear it opposes independence for a region that has abundant oil reserves, some voters fear now is not the time to start moves to break away from Iraq -- and rich businessman Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir has taken up their cause.

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In push for post-ISIS reconciliation, Iraqi leaders still a sticking point

Scott Peterson writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

Pity the Iraqi peacemaker.

As the dark cloud of Islamic State occupation is forced to recede from northern Iraq, it is leaving behind a complex array of tensions over sectarian divides, security, and governance that require immediate attention if new violence is to be averted.

Already Iraqi peacemakers supported by Western aid groups and the United Nations have been making tangible progress. As Iraqi security forces push ISIS out of one village and city after another, the peacemakers establish mechanisms of reconciliation aimed at preventing revenge attacks.

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The Things They Carried: The Iraqis Who Fled Mosul

Cengiz Yar writes for Foreign Policy:

Standing by the rows of tents that line the dusty plains of northern Iraq, groups of men and children cover their faces from the searing sun. Twenty-five miles to the west, their home city of Mosul lies in ruins after a brutal nine-month battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State fighters. The house-to-house fighting and aerial bombardment reduced entire neighborhoods to blackened heaps of rubble. The mass of decaying bodies lying beneath the debris piled along Mosul’s streets creates an unbearable stench of death that moves back and forth with the breeze. For now, these families have taken refuge outside the city, here at Khazer camp.

During the nearly endless rounds of fighting that resulted in thousands of civilian casualties, according to unofficial estimates, some 846,000 people were displaced from their homes in the city. As families fled, they took with them what few possessions they could carry. While some managed to leave with livestock or even cars, many others left with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

Often, there is little function or utility to these items — a broken watch, a child’s garment, a handful of worn photographs. They are tokens of the life — and the people — they left behind.

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Barzani vows to press on with Kurdish referendum, defying Iraq parliament

Ahmed Rasheed and Raya Jalabi write for Reuters:

Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani vowed on Tuesday to press ahead with a referendum on Kurdish independence on Sept. 25 despite a vote by Iraq’s parliament to reject the move.

Earlier the parliament in Baghdad authorized the prime minister to “take all measures” to preserve Iraq’s unity. Kurdish lawmakers walked out of the session before the vote and issued statements rejecting the decision.

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ISIS still stealing, spilling and smuggling oil throughout Iraq

Hollie McKay writes for Fox News:

Despite being recently defeated from their major strongholds of Mosul and Tel Afar in Iraq, more than two years after Iraqi forces specifically sought to retake oil-rich areas from the Islamic State, its militants are continuing to steal, spill and smuggle crude oil from Iraqi oil fields as a means to wreak havoc and fund their spluttering but surviving campaign of terror.

“While ISIS is steadily losing its hold on populated areas, it still controls a not-insignificant portion of territory that contains oil and oil infrastructure,” Justin Dargin, global energy expert at the University of Oxford, told Fox News. “As a result, ISIS is continuing at a frantic pace to produce and smuggle as much oil as possible in a bid to acquire its ever-declining revenue base.”

According to Iraq’s state-run North Oil Company (NOC), ISIS still controls scores of wellheads in parts of the northern Ajil field which are considered contested land between Iraq and Kurdish governments. The terror network still controls some 75 percent of the Alas Dome in the nearby and prominent Hamrin field, NOC adds.

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Tribal clashes, political void threaten oil installations in Iraq’s south

Aref Mohammed and Ahmed Rasheed write for Reuters:

Worsening clashes among tribes and a political void is threatening security at oil installations in Iraq’s main southern oil producing region, officials and security sources said.

Iraq has concentrated security forces in the north and west of the OPEC oil producer in the biggest campaign since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to retake territory lost to the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in 2014.

That has created a void in the south, home to Iraq’s biggest oilfields, where fighting between rival Shi‘ite Muslim tribes over farmland, state construction contracts and land ownership has worsened in the past few weeks.

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Shattered by war, Sunni Arabs despair over future in Iraq

Hamza Hendawi writes for AP:

Fawaz Saleh Ahmed has been secretly sneaking into his own village in northern Iraq to visit his home.

The last time he went, he wept as he spent several hours going from room to room in the partially destroyed house, he said. When his tears dried, he made his way back to the nearby Khazir camp housing those displaced by war, where he and his family have lived for almost a year.

Frustratingly, tantalizingly, he can see his house from there, but the Kurdish forces controlling his village, called Hassan Shami, won't allow him to return to live.

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