Islamic State, allies blunt Iraqi offensive to retake Tikrit
The Islamic State and its Baathist allies have forced Iraqi troops that were attempting to retake Tikrit to withdraw from the city just one day after launching a much touted offensive.
Iraqi forces, which include regular Army units, paramilitary SWAT teams, and hastily raised Shia militias from the south, launched their offensive, called Decisive Sword, to regain control of the capital of Salahaddin province with much fanfare yesterday morning. The military claimed to take control of much of the southern part of the city, as well as a hospital and a police academy.
But the assault force "retreated from Tikrit before sunset on Tuesday ... after coming under heavy mortar and sniper fire," Reuters reported.
The Salahaddin Division of the Islamic State claimed on its Twitter page that its forces stopped the Iraqi assault force on the southern outskirts of Tikrit. The jihadist group also claimed that a "Libyan Brother" known as "Okasha" was killed while launching "a martyrdom operation," or suicide attack, against Iraqi forces. The Salahaddin Division also said two other foreign suicide bombers, "Abu Abdullah Azerbaijani" and "Abu Shaybah Jazrawi," (a Saudi), launched suicide attacks near Samarra and killed or wounded dozens of soldiers. The reports could not be confirmed.
The Salahaddin Division celebrated its victory and published photographs of the aftermath of the battle on its Twitter feed. The images included Islamic State fighters holding their flags while standing on top of abandoned or destroyed Iraqi military vehicles, including US-made HUMVEEs, as well a captured banner of a Shia militia.
The Salahaddin Division has also claimed it shot down an Iraqi military helicopter yesterday, however the report has not been confirmed. Islamic State fighters have shot down at least one Iraqi military helicopter in Tikrit.
The Iraqi military has now failed at its second attempt to retake Tikrit, which fell to the Islamic State and its allies on June 11. At the end of June, Iraqi forces air assaulted into Tikrit University to the north of the city while ground forces advanced from the south. That offensive stalled and Iraqi forces withdrew from the city after heavy fighting.
The latest failed Tikrit offensive highlights the deteriorating condition of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has been forced to cobble together units after at least four of Iraq's 16 regular army divisions are no longer viable (note, The Long War Journal estimates that at least seven divisions have been rendered ineffective since the beginning of the year; see Threat Matrix report, US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military).
In Tikrit, the military is fighting alongside poorly trained militias who are ill-suited to conduct offensive operations. Additionally, SWAT forces, while highly trained and likely more motivated than regular forces, are being misused as infantry.
The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of Ninewa and much of Salahaddin and Diyala provinces after losing them in an offensive launched by the Islamic State and its allies that began on June 10. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is firmly under the control of the Islamic State.
Most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province are also under the control of the Islamic State. Fallujah and other cities and towns fell after the Islamic State went on the offensive in Anbar at the beginning of January. The Iraqi military has been unable to retake areas in Anbar lost earlier this year. Half of Ramadi, the provincial capital, is said to be under control of the Islamic State. The military recently airlifted 4,000 militiamen to Ramadi, a further indication that the two Iraqi divisions stationed in Anbar, the 1st and the 7th, are no longer cohesive fighting forces.
Photographs of the aftermath of the fighting in Tikrit from the Islamic State's Salahaddin Division:
An Islamic State fighter raises the group's banner in front of dozens of abandoned military vehicles outside of Tikrit:
A US-made HUMVEE destroyed in the Iraqi military's second attempt to retake Tikrit:
An Iraqi police armored vehicle captured by the Islamic State:
Islamic State fighters display a captured banner of a Shia militia:
An Islamic State fighter fires a machine gun at a military helicopter:
A burned-out military truck abandoned during the failed attempt to retake Tikrit: