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

Troops make progress in Tal Afar battle as U.S. defense secretary visits Iraq

Idrees Ali and Raya Jalabi write for Reuters:

Government forces breached the city limits of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq on Tuesday on the third day of a U.S.-backed offensive to seize it back from Islamic State militants.

Tal Afar, a longtime Islamic State stronghold, is the latest objective in the war following the recapture of Mosul after a nine-month campaign that left much of that city in ruins.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking just before arriving in Iraq on Tuesday, said the fight against IS was far from over despite recent successes by the Western-backed government. The Sunni Muslim jihadists remain in control of territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

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Kurds’ Risky Dream of Independence

The New York Times Editorial Board writes:

After yearning for independence for generations, Kurds in Iraq are scheduled to take a major step in that direction with a nonbinding referendum set for Sept. 25. The vote, expected to endorse a separate state, would be a mistake, increasing turmoil in a part of the world roiled by the fight against the Islamic State and further threatening Iraq’s territorial integrity. Postponement makes better sense.

In many ways, independence is a logical next step for the five million Iraqi Kurds, who carved out their semiautonomous enclave after the 1991 gulf war. Now that their military forces have played a pivotal role in helping to defeat the Islamic State, the Kurds think they are entitled to this long-promised referendum.

There are also serious problems. Two families, the Barzanis and the Talabanis, control politics; corruption is widespread. Because of political infighting, Kurdistan’s parliament has not met since October 2015; the region’s president, Masoud Barzani, remains in office four years after his term ended. Declining oil prices and disputes with Iraq’s central government have left the Kurdistan government in debt. Kurdish authorities are accused of discriminating against minorities. Could Kurdistan make it as an independent state if Iraq and neighboring states stayed hostile to the idea?

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Yazidi PMU Fighters Face Uncertainty in the KRG

1001 Iraqi Thoughts writes:

Iraq’s Yazidi community remains deeply traumatized by the genocide carried out against it by the Islamic State beginning in August 2014. As if the mass murder, enslavement of thousands of women, and destruction of their ancestral homeland were not enough, Yazidis also face suspicion and unchecked abuse at the hands of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities; their self-proclaimed protectors.

After the liberation of the district’s north in late 2014, Sinjar was effectively divided into two spheres of influence; the KDP and the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a creation of the PKK which has received occasional support from the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). A kind of uneasy peace held between the two forces (with some exceptions) as each party sought to gain the support of those Yazidi residents who remained in Sinjar.

The advent of the Iraqi Government’s Mosul Offensive and subsequent campaign to liberate southern Sinjar introduced a third and potentially more potent competitor for the district’s hearts and minds; the Yazidi Lalish Battalion of the PMU. The existing factions that predated the Lalish’s arrival in the south had cause for concern about this new development. The ruling KDP maintained its dominance in the north through a combination of patronage, intimidation, and sheer force. The YBS on the other hand, while having earned the good will of locals for its defense of Sinjar, succeeded in angering many Yazidis by forcibly conscripting and indoctrinating children into an ideology alien to Sinjar’s conservative mores.

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Iraqi forces must rescue many abducted Yazidis from Tal Afar: Yazidi MP

Raya Jalabi writes for Reuters:

As Iraqi forces pressed their offensive to retake Tal Afar on Monday, a Yazidi politician urged them to quickly rescue the many Yazidi men, women and children still believed to be held captive in the city by Islamic State militants.

Vian Dakhil, a member of the Iraqi parliament, said the fate of children who had been kidnapped, sold or had their identities changed was of particular concern.

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Amid Mosul rubble, a crucial challenge: rebuilding education

Scott Peterson writes for The Christian Science Monitor:

Sundus al-Yusuf can’t wait to get back into her western Mosul classroom to teach lessons in Arabic and math. Within weeks, classes are set to resume across Iraq.

But so far, after nearly three years of curriculum-changing ISIS occupation, and a nine-month assault by Iraqi security forces that left entire swaths of western Mosul in ruins, an Iraqi flag hanging from a rooftop pole is the only attempt to restore pride.

Rejuvenating the city’s broken education system is just one window into the monumental task of rebuilding Mosul from the rubble. But, say officials and educators, it is a crucial investment if Iraq’s future is to overcome years of war, deprivation, and sectarian conflict.

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First major aid in three years reaches Iraq’s West Mosul: ICRC

Reuters reports:

People in the western part of Iraq's devastated city of Mosul have received their first major delivery of aid since Islamic State militants captured the city in 2014, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday.

The agency began distributing food and other essential items last week and aims to reach more than 64,000 people in West Mosul, which was recaptured by Iraqi forces on July 10.

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Abadi’s office denies claims Baghdad agreed to assist Kurds financially, politically

Karzan Sulaivany reports for Kurdistan 24:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's media office on Sunday denied claims made by a Kurdish official that Baghdad would guarantee financial and political concessions if they postponed the Sep. 25 referendum.

Mala Bakhtiar, the executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) politburo, told Reuters the Federal Government of Iraq was prepared to assist Kurds financially and politically for them to delay the vote.

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Iraqi forces close in on IS-held town west of Mosul

Balint Szlanko writes for AP:

Iraqi forces made significant progress as they closed in on the Islamic State-held town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, the U.S.-led coalition and an Iraqi military spokesman said Monday.

U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a coalition spokesman, told The Associated Press that Iraqi forces have retaken some 250 square kilometers (95 square miles) from the extremist group since the operation began early Sunday, though they have not yet pushed into the town itself.

"As we get into the urban areas — as we saw in Mosul and Raqqa — that's where we'll see the pace slow down, that's where (IS) have placed their defenses," he said.

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Iraq’s Kurds might put off independence vote in return for concessions from Baghdad: official

Maher Chmaytelli writes for Reuters:

Iraq's Kurds may consider the possibility of postponing a planned Sept. 25 referendum on independence in return for financial and political concessions from the central government in Baghdad, a senior Kurdish official said.

A Kurdish delegation is visiting Baghdad to sound out proposals from Iraqi leaders that might convince the Kurds to postpone the vote, according to Mala Bakhtiar, executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Politburo.

The United States and other Western nations fear the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and possibly neighboring countries, diverting attention from the ongoing war against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria.

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ISIL’s smouldering footprint in Qayyara

Dorian Geiger writes for Al-Jazeera:

Billowing clouds of smoke cloaked the sun, orange flames sprang dozens of feet into the sky, and the stench of petrol hung in the air. Everywhere Muhamed Oussama looked, it was apocalyptic.

For several months, this was the daily grind for Oussama, a 38-year-old Iraqi firefighter from Kirkuk.

Oussama, who works for the firefighting division of the Iraqi civil defence department, was one of hundreds of Iraqi firefighters on the front lines, extinguishing dozens of massive oil fires that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) set last summer during the group's retreat from Qayyara to Mosul. The infernos transformed the oil-rich Qayyara region and its countryside into a fiery hellscape.

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