Iraqi forces are attempting to reclaim Tikrit, the third major city seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
A major assault was launched on Saturday, including helicopter gunships, airstrikes and airlifted forces. Special forces have been in the city since Thursday, The Washington Post reports.
Conflicting reports have already emerged about the success of the operation. On Saturday afternoon, Iraqi state television claimed the mission was successful and ISIS had been pushed out. However, a tribal leader, speaking under anonymity for fear of reprisal, said ISIS is still in control of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. He said that Iraqi forces control a university and the al-Sahra airfield.
Four helicopters dropped special forces onto the university campus on Thursday. One helicopter was shot down and the Lebanese pilot and several Iraqis were taken hostage. Another was forced to do an emergency landing after a malfunction.
Residents of Tikrit have reported the use of barrel bombs. Barrel bombs, drums packed with explosives, are highly inaccurate and notorious for causing high civilian causalities.
Iraq has turned to Iran for assistance due to slow deliveries of jets and helicopters by the U.S. Ammar Toma, an Iraqi defense and security committee member, said Iran has been “receptive” and is refurbishing an unspecified number of jets. Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops are already fighting alongside Iraqi forces. (RELATED: Report: Iranian Troops Already Battling Terrorists Inside Iraq)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed any U.S. intervention in the crisis, describing all sides in the conflict as “enemies.” (RELATED: Israel’s Netanyahu Advises Obama On Iraq: ‘When Your Enemies Are Fighting Each Other, Weaken Both’)
Human Rights Watch said that between June 11 and June 14 roughly 160 to 190 men were executed by ISIS. This follows an ISIS claim that it executed 1,700 members of the Iraq military, a figure that can’t be verified.
Amid the rapid deterioration of the region, and despite mass recruitment of civilians to fight ISIS, some have gone so far as to say Iraq no longer exists. (RELATED: Former CIA Chief: Iraq Doesn’t Exist)