Iraqi military says it retakes control of key base in Tikrit

The Iraqi military said it has regained control of Camp Speicher, the large military base just west of the city of Tikrit that was stormed by fighters from the Islamic State late last week. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two Iraqi officials, including a military official on the base, reached by telephone said elite counterterrorism forces backed by Shiite militiamen had secured the base in the wake of the Islamic State attack on Friday.

Since then, militants have intermittently fired on the base’s surveillance towers from their positions surrounding it, the official at the base said. But no major assault has taken place since Friday, signaling the special forces have been–at least for 48 hours–successful in their continuing attempts to repel the incursions.

The counterattacks have also proved an important public-relations exercise for an army struggling badly to keep militants from advancing, despite the enlisting of thousands of volunteer Shiite fighters, hundreds of which have joined troops at Camp Speicher, according to local officials.

“Camp Speicher is safe. It is unreachable to the insurgents,” said a special-operations brigade leader, identified as Staff General Karim, to Al-Iraqiya TV. He said the suicide bombers were only able to penetrate the base because its watchtowers were so far apart and visibility was made worse on an especially dusty Friday night. “We hope we will be taking new measures in the coming days to further secure the base,” he said.

The news broadcast also showed soldiers firing into the air and declaring victory at the base, as a reporter narrated: “They are killing terrorists and takfiris,” using the word for radical Islamists. “The terrorists are terrified here at Speicher, and all over Salahuddin.”

The Islamic State claimed last week that it destroyed seven aircraft (likely helicopters) on the tarmac and shot down two more during its assault. The Islamic State said it was in “control of the airport and the base completely” after the attack. An Iraqi official confirmed that at least one helicopter was destroyed at the base and two more were damaged by a suicide bomber.

The Islamic State has also claimed it killed a brigadier and a colonel during the attack, as well as scores of Iraqi troops. Residents in Tikrit told McClatchy last week that captured Iraqi troops were paraded through the city. Iraqi military officials have not commented at all on their own casualties.

Speicher now appears to be contested, despite claims by the Iraqi military to be in full control of the base.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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