Islamic State repels Iraqi military’s 3rd attempt to retake Tikrit

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.

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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  • Mark says:

    It looks like the IA tried to coordinate their latest Tikrit offensive with the Peshmerga’s assault in the north.
    It is certainly telling that the US appears unwilling to provide the level of air support to the government forces that they are leveraging to help the Kurds. And at this point, it looks like Tikrit won’t be liberated any time soon by IA forces or Shia militia units without air support.

  • TallDave says:

    Just a matter of time, I think. The ISF are not going away, and the Sunni Arab tribes are not exactly in love with them.

  • Straw walker says:

    Well written article..Finally an article related to the Iraq conflict that doesn’t involve US Christian exuberance.

  • Killshot says:

    Us Christian exuberance? As opposed to foreign infidel cynicism? Spare us.

  • blert says:

    From whatever rumors that trickle through, the Iraqi army’s problem is primarily IEDs.
    When you’ve got M1A1 tanks it seems hardly necessary to call for air delivered ordnance.
    The larger problem is that August is not campaign season.
    Beyond that, the Iraqi army needs to be entirely rebuilt — personnel wise.
    Al-Maliki gutted the institution that the US Army built up.
    Even now, he’s STILL the commander in chief. So I take such ‘battles’ to be his swan song.

  • AMac says:

    > Al-Maliki gutted the institution that the US Army built up.
    Clearly true. But that is a task that would overmatch any one man, even a Prime Minister.
    As far as I can tell, the system and the people who supported and facilitated Maliki are still in charge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there seems to be no interest in understanding what went wrong, and why.
    Doubtless, they will happily accept US air support, and cash US checks. This doesn’t seem like a recipe for a good outcome, from the US point of view.

  • Tom says:

    It’s taken years but I’ve finally seen a troll on this serious website. Plz block Mr Walker. AMac calls it about right I think. When we pulled out, the Iraqis had no counter-balance to strong Iranian influence. The ISF eventually became little more than a militia and the real power was in MoI. Unless we commit to a long-term significant partnership with the Iraqis, the new nation will remain an Iranian satellite and splinter. Since it looks like we are unwilling to make that kind of commitment, I forecast continued instability and unchecked Iranian interventionism.

  • Kent Gatewood says:

    Iraq should surround Tikrit and wait them out.
    Bring in Sinhalese advisors, play long, and win.

  • Jim Kurtz says:

    Remember we use to laugh at “Baghdad Bob”, spokesman for Saddam, if we were to replay some of his pronouncements, they might seem, sadly, prescient.

  • J Flood says:

    What a mistake by Islamic state to attack Kurdish controlled area when they could have brokered a deal in both their interests. Kurds would have been more than happy to see Iraqi govt fail/fall. And also IS would not having the US intervene and defend Kurdish areas. One less front to worry about.


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