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Friday, March 13, 2015

Tikrit Falls To The ISF

Link: A. Iraqi Forces Retake Saddam's Home Of Tikrit

On Wednesday, March 11, units of the Iraqi Army had taken control of most of Tikrit, raising the Iraqi flag over many landmarks in the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein.  A Shi'a Militia fought alongside the Iraqi Army, which was also advised by roughly one hundred Iranian military officers.  While Iraqi soldiers celebrated their apparent victory, news from Ramadi indicates that the Islamic State (IS) forces have launched another focused attack on this strategic Sunni city. But the campaign to oust the IS from Tikrit can only be considered a victory for the Iraqi government.  The intention to conduct a full-scale operation to recover Tikrit had been leaked to the press days before the operation was to begin.  Once the operation commenced, it was apparent that a great deal of planning was involved in the pre-engagement efforts.  The Iraqi forces moved deliberately, never losing the initiative or the advantage to the IS forces.  The IS for their part, did not appear to consider Tikrit worth too much sacrifice, as the defenders appeared to give up ground without much of a struggle.  It is anticipated that the ISF will consolidate its position and resupply before commencing its next operation.

Last year after occupying Tikrit, forces from the IS were accused of massacring 1,700 mostly young men from the local area.  There has been some concern that Iraqi forces make seek retribution over any IS members that have been detained during the current operation, although Iraqi government officials stress that steps have been taken to ensure that all human rights are respected and that no "revenge killings" will occur.  If the Iraqi Army can strengthen its hold on Tikrit, it will provide an opportunity to resupply beleaguered Iraqi government forces in the north, and possibly consolidate the tenuous Iraqi control over the Baiji oil refinery and the town of Baiji itself.  While occupying
Tikrit, the IS was in an ideal position to threaten any attempt to relieve or resupply Iraqi forces in the areas around Baiji, Erbil, Kirkuk and Mosul.  There can be no doubt that the Iranian military has stepped up its "advisory" efforts, and are having a much more profound impact than the oddly nebulous "allied air campaign" is having on the ground game in Iraq.  Events in Iraq are hitting close to home in Tehran, as the government continues its diplomatic discourse with the United States over its nuclear program, and IS guerillas are within a days march of Iranian territory.  Given the success of the Tikrit operation, expect to see the Iranian presence increase over the next few weeks, and if the result is continued victories over the IS, there will be no reason to question Iranian involvement. 

The current Iraqi government is considered sympathetic to the Shi'a cause, which has facilitated Iranian military assistance to the ISF.  Normally, the Iranian advisors would be found embedded with the Shi'a militia, but during the Tikrit campaign, the Iranians were much more conspicuous in their direct advisement to the Iraqi Army.  The deepening crisis in Ramadi and Fallujah, along with an IS presence in Diyala province, led many analysts to expect direct military Iranian intervention.  The resurgence of the ISF (albeit aided by Shi'a militia and Iranian advisors) has given the Iranian government some breathing room.  The last thing that Tehran needs at the moment, is a full-scale military mobilization into a foreign country.  It would certainly confuse the impending negotiations with the Obama Administration over the Nuclear issue.  If the ISF can follow up their success by consolidating their positions in Baiji, Erbil and other strategic points in the north, and react swiftly to any new IS operations in Ramadi and Fallujah, then the momentum may be changing sides. 

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