One day after suffering a defeat at the Mosul dam by the Peshmerga and US and Iraqi forces, the Islamic State and its allies beat back an Iraqi Army assault that was designed to retake control of the central city of Tikrit. The Islamic State and its allies have now repelled three Iraqi military attempts to regain Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province, which has been out of government control for more than two months.
Earlier this morning, Iraqi forces launched “a wide military campaign to liberate the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State,” All Iraq News Agency reported. “The security forces will liberate the city and eliminate the ISIL [Islamic State] terrorists,” an Iraqi official told the news agency.
But the Iraqi forces, which attacked Tikrit from several directions, broke off their assault by the afternoon after taking “heavy machine gun and mortar fire” from the south, and encountering “landmines and snipers” west of the city, Reuters reported.
“Residents of central Tikrit said by telephone that Islamic State fighters were firmly in control of their positions and patrolling the main streets,” Reuters noted.
The Islamic State and its Baathist allies in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit have defeated two other attempts by the Iraqi military and supporting militias to reestablish government control of the provincial capital, 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.
And on July 15, Iraqi soldiers and supporting militias advanced on the city from the south, but withdrew one day later after being drawn into a deadly complex ambush that included IED traps, suicide bombers, and snipers.
The latest failed Tikrit offensive highlights the poor state of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has often been forced to cobble together units since at least four of Iraq’s 16 regular army divisions are no longer viable. 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 many areas of Iraq, the military is fighting alongside poorly trained militias who are ill-suited to conducting offensive operations. Additionally, SWAT and special forces, while highly trained and likely more motivated than regular forces, are often being misused as infantry.
The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of large areas lost in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces after the Islamic State and its allies began their offensive on June 10. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and other major towns and cities in northern and central Iraq are firmly under the control of the Islamic State or contested.
The Islamic State also holds most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province. 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 the Islamic State’s control. 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.
The only places where the Islamic State and its allies have lost ground are in some areas of northern Iraq where they encroached into territory controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Earlier this month, the Islamic State took over the Mosul Dam, the city of Sinjar, and a series of towns and villages north and east of Mosul after the Peshmerga retreated, often without a fight. The Peshmerga recently retook the Mosul Dam and those same villages, but only after the US military intervened and launched a series of airstrikes that targeted Islamic State armored personnel carriers, technicals, convoys, mortar pits, and other military targets.