US attacks in bid to retake Tikrit

Published: Thursday 26th March 2015 by The News Editor

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America has begun air attacks in Tikrit in support of a stalled Iraqi ground offensive to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) fighters.

The bombing, at Iraq’s request, marked a significant expansion of the US military role in Iraq.

“These strikes are intended to destroy Isil (an acronym for IS) strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimising” unintended damage to civilian structures, Lt Gen James Terry, commander of the US-led campaign to defeat the IS group, said.

“This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to manoeuvre and defeat Isil in the vicinity of Tikrit.”

Tikrit is deemed an important test of the ability of Iraq, with coalition support, to retake ground it ceded to IS last year. The US initially did not provide air support in Tikrit because Baghdad pointedly chose instead to partner with Iran in a battle it predicted would yield a quick victory. In recent days, however, the Pentagon has called the Iraqi offensive “stalled”.

An Associated Press correspondent in Tikrit reported hearing warplanes overhead, followed by multiple explosions. An Iraqi commander in the city said a warehouse used to store IS weapons was bombed by an American plane.

A Washington official said there were no more than a dozen air strikes, some conducted by US allies.

The official said the attacks were the first in a series that would be carried out in the days to come as the coalition co-ordinates with Iraqi ground troops who have encircled Tikrit, but not penetrated deeply into the city.

The battle for Tikrit is widely seen as a step towards the more difficult and potentially decisive battle to regain control of the larger city of Mosul.

In an address to the nation, prime minister Haider al-Abadi predicted success in Tikrit but did not say the US was providing air strikes.

“We have started the final phase of the operation in Tikrit,” he said. “You will liberate your ground, not anyone but you,” he said.

Mr al-Abadi praised all the groups involved in the battle against IS, including the so-called Popular Mobilisation Forces, which the US calls Iranian-backed Shiite militias, as well as the Sunni tribes and coalition forces. But he fell short of confirming that the coalition was playing a direct role in Tikrit.

American air strikes in Tikrit raise highly sensitive questions about participating in an Iraqi campaign that has been spearheaded by Iraqi Shiite militias trained and equipped by Iran, a US adversary.

Iran has provided artillery and other weaponry for the Tikrit battle and senior Iranian advisers have helped Iraq co-ordinate the offensive. US officials have estimated that two thirds of the ground troops involved in the offensive are Shiite militias and the others are combinations of regular Iraqi army soldiers and Sunni tribal fighters.

Published: Thursday 26th March 2015 by The News Editor

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