Tikrit Liberation Still ‘Days Away’? – 24 March 2015
Tikrit still on way to liberation?
The military operation to recapture Tikrit has slowed as security forces, backed by Shia militias and Sunni tribal fighters wait for reinforcements to prepare for heavy fighting in the city center in the home town of Saddam Hussein. In the past week, Iraqi security forces (ISF) and allies have advanced into the city from three directions and had captured much of the outlying suburbs of Tikrit. The defensive position controlled by IS now encompasses the industrial area in Tikrit and the presidential palace.
Official casualty figures have not been released, but eyewitness accounts have revealed that both sides have suffered heavy casualties, particularly amongst the inexperienced elements of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU), who form the bulk of the forces fighting on the ISF side. IS has deployed snipers and IED's – creating a dangerous impediment to the advancing ISF forces, which is very likely why the Iraqi army declared a halt in operations. Other sources have indicated that ISF forces have deployed heavier weaponry and artillery in order to weaken IS defences and eventually launch an incursion to recapture all remaining territory.
A PMU spokesman has stated that the remainder of the fighting will be conducted street to street and house to house in the coming weeks, which will likely result in additional casualties. Significant casualties may in turn lead to another deferral of the ground operation if IS resistance continues to be stiff. Some reports however have indicated that the battle has reached a stalemate, with IS militants stubbornly lodged in a concentrated area in Tikrit, and ISF forces considering merely sealing off the area and laying siege instead.
Saddam Hussein's Tomb Destroyed
In the midst of the fighting in Tikrit, sources have revealed that former dictator Saddam Hussein's tomb was 'virtually levelled' as fighting intensified around Tikrit. According to ISF sources, IS had massed around the tomb's mausoleum and had set-up roadside bombs and fortifications. Later it was revealed that loyalists, fearing the fighting would disturb the tomb, removed the late dictators body to an unknown location.
Peshmerga advance in Kirkuk
In the north, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters backed by coalition and militia support have reported further successes as IS supply networks face increasing strain. Shia militia fighters have reportedly engaged in clashes around Kirkuk, as they fight alongside the Peshmerga in what some have described as rare coordination mirroring the operation in Tikrit. The Peshmerga and allies have recaptured approximately 19 villages, including the strategic location of Al-Bashir on the 10th of March. Kurdish forces however are unlikely to make sustained long-term gains without a full-scale campaign similar in magnitude to the Tikrit operation. Following the liberation of two key areas recently, IS militants withdrew only to re-engage with heavy shelling from safe distances. A protracted ground campaign against IS militants in the north needs to take place in order to completely dislodge them prior to the offensive on Mosul.