The Iraqi military offensive to retake Tikrit, the provincial capital of Salahaddin province, appears to have suffered its first setback as the military withdrew troops from the city after heavy fighting.
The Iraqi troops pulled back from much of Tikrit after a ground offensive, which started yesterday, “met stiff resistance” from insurgent forces in the city, the BBC reported. The insurgent alliance includes the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, and the Naqshbandi Army, a collection of former Baathists and ostensible Islamists intent on reestablishing Sunni dominance.
Several armored columns of Iraqi forces entered Tikrit yesterday from the south. Heavy fighting was reported at the provincial council building, Saddam’s Hussein’s presidential palace, Tikrit University, and elsewhere.
The news of the withdrawal from Tikrit comes one day after Iraqi military officials boasted that they “routed” the fighters, and had “complete success in clearing ISIS from the city, with some militant commanders among the 60 killed.”
Iraqi forces are said to have withdrawn to the town of Dijla near Tikrit to regroup.
Insurgents are reported to have heavily seeded the road south from Tikrit to the city of Samarra, which represents the edge of control northward for the Iraqi government, with IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.
The toll of the fighting, which began on June 27 when Iraqi forces air assaulted into Tikrit University, has yet to be fully disclosed. A twitter account of an ISIS supporter, who reported 24 hours ago that “the Safavids [Iranian Shia] retreat 75 KMs away from Tikrit,” claimed that 400 prisoners were taken, three helicopters were shot down, and 45 mechanized vehicles were destroyed. The report could not be confirmed.
At least one Iraqi helicopter was shot down during the June 27 air assault at the university, and another may have been damaged badly enough to not be able to leave the ground. Iraqi forces are said to have taken up positions at the university and a nearby base formerly called Camp Speicher by US forces. It is unclear if Iraqi forces remain at the two locations north of Tikrit.
ISIS and its allies seized control of Tikrit on June 11 after its forces captured Mosul to the north and pushed southward. Much of Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, and Salahaddin provinces remain beyond the control of the Iraqi government, which is struggling to regroup its military after nearly two divisions of troops as well as police and border forces melted away or were defeated.