By Sal Bommarito
The promising offensive against a few hundred ISIS fighters embedded in Tikrit has slowed dramatically. Iraqi troops, totaling 20,000 and consisting of mostly Shiite militiamen, have not been able to root out the insurgents who are protected by land mines, suicide bombers and snipers. The Wall Street Journal reported the story titled “Iraq’s Tikrit Offensive Slows” on March 20.
Tikrit is located 87 miles northwest of Baghdad. This battle is seen as a test for Iraqi government forces prior to an expected assault on Mosul, the unofficial capital of the Islamic State, later in the year. The Tikrit hostilities are noteworthy because they are taking place “without the benefit of U.S. airstrikes or help from Kurdish fighters.”
The head of the local tribal council said “the commanders [of the Iraqi Army] are reevaluating the situation . . . [and] how to break into the city with minimal casualties.” This individual estimated that there were “6,500 improvised explosive devices in downtown Tikrit.”
It will be interesting to observe the response of the Iraqi leaders and their Iranian advisors to the resistance. As previously reported, the latter has provided rockets to the Iraqis, which could be used to level Tikrit, but would kill both insurgents and innocent Sunnis. This action would substantially decrease Iraqi casualties. The situation is likely to be repeated over and again in the future as other cities held by ISIS are challenged.
Equally important is the U.S engagement. Why would the Iraqis shun help from the U.S.? Presumably, the Iranians have insisted that the Iraqis keep the U.S. on the sidelines in a political power play.