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

America Is in Denial About Iraq

Emile Simpson writes for Foreign Policy:

The last pockets of the Islamic State in Iraq have still not been recaptured, and already the country’s sectarian divisions are coming out in the open as the common enemy dissipates.

On Monday, as Iraqi regular forces and Shiite militia rolled into the city of Kirkuk that lies at the center of the territories and oil fields disputed between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued this statement: “ISIS remains the true enemy of Iraq, and we urge all parties to remain focused on finishing the liberation of their country from this menace.” The U.S. commander on the ground, Maj. Gen. Robert White, said the same thing: “We continue to advocate dialogue between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy, ISIS, in Iraq.”

Translation: We have been given no political strategy from Washington, so please, everyone, just stick to our military plan until we work one out.

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America’s Opportunity In Iraq Is Ready To Be Seized

Douglas A. Ollivant writes for War on the Rocks:

The American contribution to the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIL) has given Washington a new prestige in Iraq. Indeed, the United States has an extraordinarily favorable image in Baghdad. It is hard to overstate the significance of what Iraq has accomplished in the past three years, and most Iraqis understand the key role the United States played.

Iraq has liberated virtually all of its terrain from the Islamic State, stabilized its economy, added over one million barrels per day in oil production in the southern fields, kept human rights abuses at surprisingly low levels, avoided large-scale communitarian violence, and now made important strides in stabilization and reconciliation.

But progress in Iraq is fragile. A national election scheduled for April of next year will be critical in determining the future of this vital U.S. ally.

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The rise and fall of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria

Laris Karklis and Tim Meko write for The Washington Post:

On Tuesday, U.S.-backed forces claimed to have full control of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s onetime capital and most symbolically important stronghold. The militant group — once known as al-Qaeda in Iraq — began seizing key cities in 2014 with the capture of Fallujah, Tikrit and Mosul.

The Islamic State continued to acquire land in Iraq until the end of 2015, when opposing forces started pushing the militants out of the cities. It retreated from Mosul, its last urban center in Iraq, in July 2017. With the loss of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s remaining areas of concentration are mostly in Syria’s Deir al-Zour and Iraq’s Anbar provinces, and a few scattered pockets elsewhere.

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The Ignominious End of the ISIS Caliphate

Robin Wright writes for The New Yorker:

History will record that the Islamic State caliphate—a bizarre pseudo-state founded on illusory goals, created by a global horde of jihadis, and enforced with perverted viciousness—survived for three years, three months and some eighteen days. The fall of Raqqa, the nominal ISIS capital, was proclaimed on Tuesday by the U.S.-backed militia that spearheaded the offensive, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias advised by U.S. Special Forces. Mopping-up operations were still going on (especially around the Raqqa stadium, which ISIS fighters had converted into an arms depot and prison), but the liberation of Raqqa marked the symbolic demise of the Islamic State’s rule.

“How far they’ve fallen. It’s a striking contrast to three years ago, when they planted the flag, in the summer of 2014, and proclaimed God’s kingdom on Earth had come again—and now they’ve evaporated,” Will McCants, the author of the best-selling book “The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State,” told me.

“There are other places for ISIS to go and survive, but there’s something special about Syria and Iraq and the Fertile Crescent,” McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. “It’s the theatre of prophecy. It’s where the apocalyptic drama unfolds. It’s the heartland of the historic caliphate, and it’s the scene of the final end-of-times drama, as predicted by Islamic scripture. Nowhere else in the Islamic world compares with it."

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ISIS’ brutal past, shrinking present, and uncertain future

AP and CBS News report:

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians in recent history, is on the verge of collapse.

After brutalizing residents living under its command for more than three years, the militants have now lost their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa and are battling to hang on to relatively small pockets of territory in Iraq and Syria, besieged by local forces from all sides. Few, however, expect ISIS to completely go away, or for the bloodshed in the two countries and the region to end quickly.

Here's a look at the rise and fall of the Sunni Muslim extremist group's "caliphate," and what to expect next.

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Iraq ousted ISIS, but ‘Mosul can never be the same again’

Moni Basu writes for CNN:

A few days ago, Mahmoud Saeed boarded a plane for a trip that is sure to be filled with trepidation.

The acclaimed Iraqi author had not seen his beloved hometown in six long years. And while Mosul had been freed from the so-called Islamic State, it would never be the same.

He knew that when he finally arrived, the city that shaped him from a young boy to manhood would be unrecognizable. Mosul had survived thousands of years of myriad rulers and cultures, but ISIS dealt it a death knell.

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Mission Still Not Accomplished in Iraq

Emma Sky writes for Foreign Affairs:

In July 2017, Iraqi soldiers, backed by U.S. air strikes, liberated Mosul, the city where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), had declared a caliphate just three years before. It was a hard-won victory. For nine grueling months, Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, an elite group of U.S.- trained forces, suffered heavy losses as they fought street by street to uproot ISIS fighters, who used the local population as human shields. Thousands of civilians were killed, and a million or so were displaced from their homes. Mosul’s historic monuments have been destroyed. And the city’s infrastructure lies in tatters.

But there is also much to celebrate. The liberation of Mosul ended a reign of terror that saw children brainwashed in schools, smokers publicly flogged, Yazidi women reduced to sex slaves, and gay men thrown from rooftops. The victory also struck a devastating blow to ISIS, killing thousands of its fighters, shrinking its resources, crushing its organizational capacity, and diminishing its global appeal.

With a military victory in hand, U.S. President Donald Trump might want to declare “mission accomplished” and seek a hasty exit from Iraq. Fourteen years after the U.S. invasion, that choice is no doubt tempting. But making it would be a dangerous mistake.

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How Sci-Fi Writers Imagine Iraq’s Future

Jason Heller writes for The Atlantic:

Speculative fiction from around the world has been gaining significant traction in the U.S. in recent years. Nordic sci-fi novels such as The Core of the Sun and Amatka—by Johanna Sinisalo and Karin Tidbeck, respectively—have been published in the States by the likes of Grove Atlantic and Vintage. Meanwhile, China’s Liu Cixin became the first Asian author to win a coveted Hugo Award for Best Novel, thanks to his staggering sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, which the publisher Tor Books brought to the U.S. in 2014. These books have expanded the vistas of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, genres that have long needed a plurality of voices when it comes to race, religion, gender, sexuality, and culture. Still, it’s been an uphill battle, thanks to the usual hurdles of translation, economics, and cultural differences. Iraq is one of the many countries that remain underrepresented in the U.S. when it comes to speculative fiction—although Tor aims to help rectify that with their publication in September of Iraq + 100.

Edited by the writer, filmmaker, and Iraqi expatriate Hassan Blasim, Iraq + 100bills itself as “the first anthology of science fiction to have emerged from Iraq.” It comprises 10 short stories written by Iraqis, all of whom were guided by a simple yet fertile premise: What might Iraq look like a century from now? The book is appearing in the U.S. for the first time since its initial publication in 2016. Blasim, a native of Baghdad, began assembling it in his adopted Finland after having spent years as a political refugee due to his work’s criticism of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

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When Cities Fall

Heather Murdock writes for Voice of America:

From the struggle of prolonged urban warfare, to the thrill of victory and the brutal aftermath, VOA brings you to three cities – Mosul and Tal Afar in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria – for an inside look at what happens when cities fall.

On a recent trip to west Mosul, we couldn't enter the Old City, now an uninhabitable wasteland, because militants who had been hiding out for months ambushed Iraqi Federal Police a few hours before.

As we drove around town we saw new checkpoints every few blocks, manned by various Iraqi fighting forces. Shia flags adorned some of the posts in what is an almost exclusively Sunni city, as Islamic State has killed or forced out most minorities. Traffic was thick; someone in an ambulance cleared a path by firing bullets into the air. None of this is strange now in Mosul.

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Defeat As Victory? How The Islamic State Will Rely On Hijrah To Claim A Win

Burak Kadercan writes for War on the Rocks:

The “mini-empire” that ISIL built in Iraq and Syria is collapsing, which fuels a sense of triumphalism in the West. The logic is simple: ISIL made itself simultaneously global public enemy number one and the most vibrant magnet for global Salafi jihadis, thanks to its control of territory and claims to having established a caliphate. The group also publicly declared that it aimed to “remain and expand,” taken to be a reference to its territorial presence in the region. So, the logic goes, once ISIL’s territory is gone, its claims to a caliphate will evaporate. Salafi jihadis who flocked to or cheered for ISIL because of its ability to hold and govern territory in the name of the caliphate will, per this logic, start to see the group as incompetent. Therefore, many in the West believe that while ISIL may remain a threat in terms of conducting terror attacks abroad, its failure to “remain and expand” on its own territory will eventually deal a decisive blow to its reputation.

This is the wrong conclusion to draw from ISIL’s military defeat. ISIL will most likely frame its military defeat as a victory of some sort. While Western analysts may be tempted to interpret this as a cop-out mechanism voiced by a clear “loser,” it is also likely that ISIL’s allure in the eyes of Salafi jihadis will not diminish as much as many in the national security community expect it to. ISIL plans to market defeat within a narrative of hardship, heroism, martyrdom, and “temporary” withdrawal from its territory.

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