An operation involving around 30,000 Iraqi and militia fighters attempting to recapture the city of Tikrit has been temporarily stalled due to an unexpected level of preparation by ISIS jihadis.
“The battle to retake Tikrit will be difficult because of the preparations [ISIS] made,” Jawwad al-Etlebawi, spokesman for a Shiite militia fighting alongside the regular army told Agence France Presse news outlet.
“They planted bombs on all the streets, buildings, bridges, everything. For this reason, our forces were stopped by these defensive preparations.”
According to The Washington Post, cemetery workers said as many as 60 war dead have been arriving each day, with bombings and sniper fire being the most common causes of death.
The current effort to recapture Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein and heartland of the Islamic State, began March 2.
Initially, Iraqi troops and militia had been able to push militants back and surround the city with ease, and they expressed confidence that ISIS could be expelled from Iraq without the help of the U.S.-led airstrike coalition.
“We don’t need it and we won’t need it,” Hadi Al-Amiri, leader of a Shiite paramilitary force told CNN a week ago. “Anyone who puts faith in the international coalition to liberate Iraq is putting their faith on a mirage. The people of Iraq will liberate this country and put an end to ISIS.”
Recent events, however, have proven that retaking the city itself will be more difficult than previously expected, and some Iraqi officials have admitted the need for air assistance.
“We desperately need it now,” Jassim al-Jabara, head of the security committee of the Salahuddin provincial council, told the Washington Post. “But some people are against it.”
The Post explained that joining the fight would put the United States in the awkward situation of collaborating with Iran because “Shiite-dominated Iran has been a key backer of the militias” in the Tikrit operation.
Retaking Tikrit, however, is very important to the United States because the operation is a sort of test run for how American-trained Iraqi forces will fare this fall in the retaking of Mosul — a task that will be much more complex, as the city is nearly 10 times larger.
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