Monday, March 2, 2015

Iraqi Army and Shia Militia Launch Operation to Retake Tikrit - UPDATE

The ground operation to retake Tikrit and its surrounding areas has begun. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), backed by Shia militia, attacked ISIL stronghold north of Samarra on Monday at the start of a campaign aimed at driving the insurgents out of mainly Sunni province of Salah ad-Din.

The Iranian-backed Shia militia and ISF cleared Balad-Samarra corridor in southern part of the province in their successful late December/early January offensive against the Islamic State. The northern part, including Tikrit and Baiji, had been overrun by ISIL in their June offensive. Last year, ISF and militia forces had made unsuccessful attempts to retake the area.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was in Samarra on Sunday, declaring that the liberation of all Salah ad-Din towns had started. Thousands of troops and Shia militia had gathered there for the offensive.

Tikrit, home of deposed president Saddam Hussein, was the scene of ISIL’s massacre of hundreds of ISF members kidnapped from the nearby Camp Speicher last year. 

The pace of progress in Salah ad-Din could affect plans to retake Mosul further north. ISIL has entrenched itself in Tikrit and is expected to mount strong resistance.

UPDATE - From ISW’s Iraq Situation Report, 2 March:
“Intense clashes erupted today as the ISF, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi'a militias, and Iraqi Sunni anti-ISIS fighters advanced toward ISIS positions on the outskirts of the Tikrit and strategic areas south, north, and east of the city.”

Photo credit: ISF and Shia militia fighters gathering near Samarra on Sunday in preparation for their offensive to liberate Tikrit. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters/csmonitor)

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