Iraqi forces finally enter ISIS-held Tikrit
12 March 2015, 15:16
Tikrit - Iraqi forces have entered Tikrit,
dodging bombs and sniper fire in search of their biggest victory yet against
embattled jihadists who tried to light new fires elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
The Islamic State group has suffered
stinging defeats in the heart of its self-proclaimed "caliphate"
recently, but its ultraviolent ideology has inspired attacks and recruits
With ISIS brutality and population
displacement reaching new highs, Washington sought increased powers from the US
Congress to take on a group threatening to reshape the Middle East.
However, it was without direct support from
the US-led coalition's air campaign that Iraqi government and allied forces
punched into parts of Tikrit on Wednesday, marking a new phase in a 10-day
drive to wrest the city back from ISIS.
A combination of army, police and volunteer
forces moved into northern and southern Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi
president Saddam Hussein and a main ISIS stronghold.
A major general told AFP on condition of
anonymity that government forces were battling "to cleanse the neighbourhood
of Qadisiyah" in Tikrit.
"But we are engaging in a very
delicate battle because we are not facing fighters on the ground, we are facing
booby-trapped terrain and sniper fire. Our movement is slow," he said.
An army colonel said forces coming from
another direction had also retaken the main hospital on the city's southern
Early in the offensive, in which up to 30 000
men were initially involved while ISIS is believed to have just a few hundred
fighters inside Tikrit, most outlying areas were reconquered.
The town of al-Alam, a flashpoint north of
Tikrit along the Tigris River, was fully under the control of pro-government
fighters and local anti-ISIS Sunni tribesmen Wednesday, an AFP reporter there
On the back foot in eastern and northern
Iraq, ISIS tried to seize the initiative elsewhere, including with a
spectacular coordinated attack in Ramadi in the west.
Twelve car bombs exploded almost
simultaneously around the city after dawn, with at least seven suicide bombers
targeting government security installations, police said.
At least 17 people were killed and 38
wounded, according to a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor at Ramadi
Clashes ensued but ISIS failed to gain any
ground in one of the biggest attacks against a rare pocket of government
control in Anbar.
"Our brave security forces were ready
and had excellent intelligence about the operation," Anbar Governor Sohaib
al-Rawi said on social media.
In and around Baghdad on Wednesday, at
least 17 people were killed in five attacks, including nine in a car bomb in
the Hurriya neighbourhood.
Also on the offensive in Syria, the
jihadists launched a "huge assault" Wednesday to try to capture a
strategic town on the border with Turkey, killing dozens.
Their attack focused on Ras al-Ain and IS
seized a nearby village, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said the
offensive was a preemptive strike against Kurdish militiamen planning to attack
the IS-held town of Tal Abyad further west.
At least 12 fighters from the Kurdish
People's Protection Units, which control Ras al-Ain and surrounding villages,
were killed, he said.
IS has also ramped up its propaganda war in
what some analysts see as a possible sign of desperation by a movement on its
After destroying several Iraqi heritage
sites that are among the planet's most precious, the jihadists again shocked
the world on Tuesday by releasing a video in which an Arab Israeli accused of
spying for Israel is "executed" by a boy who looks no older than 12.
An Australian teenager also reportedly
carried out a suicide bombing in western Iraq, which Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Thursday described as "absolutely horrific".
Around 140 Australians have travelled to
Iraq and Syria to join ISIS and other jihadists, the government has said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said it
was a "pivotal hour" in the battle against the most violent group in
the history of modern jihad.
Appearing before the Senate foreign
relations committee, he and top US defence officials appealed for a united vote
in favour of a new authorisation for the use of military force against ISIS.
The United States leads a 60-nation
coalition involved in the fight against the jihadists and has carried out
hundreds of strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Iraq's other key foreign partner Tehran
backs a number of the militias fighting ISIS but the Pentagon is uneasy about
the role of Iranian advisers in the battle for Tikrit.
Their presence "is something that is
concerning to us in particular because the sectarian danger in Iraq is the
principal thing that can unravel the campaign against ISIS," US Defence
Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday, using another name for ISIS.
Iran's top commander for external military
operations, Qassem Soleimani, has been ubiquitous on Iraq's front lines.
Comments by Iranian-backed militia
commanders had stoked fears that the recapture of Tikrit could lead to
widespread sectarian reprisal killings.
But so far, reports of abuses by the mostly
Shiite Iraqi forces battling IS in and around Tikrit have been relatively