Iraq: The Battle for Tikrit*

Iraq: The Battle for Tikrit*

By Alan Taylor

For the past two weeks, 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers, and several increasingly influential paramilitary popular mobilization units (primarily Shiite militias, many backed by Iran), have been advancing on the city of Tikrit and the surrounding ISIS-held territory north of Baghdad. The campaign to roll back gains made by ISIS militants in northern Iraq last year has already led to the recapturing of Tikrit’s outskirts and many surrounding towns. Saddam Hussein once called Tikrit home, and his tomb was erected there—a structure reduced to rubble by recent battles.

Photojournalists travelled to the front lines with the pro-government forces to collect these images. Reuters photographer Thaier Al-Sudani reported that most areas that were retaken had no residents, and that “after the battle they would resemble ghost towns, nothing but burnt cars and charred bodies of Islamic State fighters.

As of today, ISIS still controls parts of Tikrit, and the New York Times reports that Iraqi government forces have paused the offensive to call for reinforcements and to preserve property and civilian lives.


Shiite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi walk as smoke rises from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an ISIS suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit, Iraq, on March 12, 2015 – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


Shiite fighters ride an armoured vehicle in the town of al-Alam on March 9, 2015 – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


A Shiite fighter launches a rocket during clashes with ISIS militants on the outskirts of al-Alam on March 8, 2015. Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighting ISIS took control of the center of a town on the southern outskirts of Saddam Hussein’s home city Tikrit on Sunday, security officials said.


Smoke billows as members of the Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilization units, gather in the village of Albu Ajil, near the city of Tikrit, after they regained control of the area from ISIS jihadists on March 9, 2015 – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


A member of militias known as Hashid Shaabi kneels as he celebrates victory while smoke rises from a clash with ISIS militants in the town of al-Alam on March 10, 2015. – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


A young volunteer militiaman on his way to the battlefield against ISIS fighters in Tikrit on March 15, 2015 – Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo

Shiite fighters fire their weapons during clashes with ISIS militants in Salahuddin province on March 3, 2015 – Ahmed Al-Hussaini/Reuters


An Iraqi soldier takes photos of the demolished tomb of former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein in Tikrit on March 15, 2015. The tomb of Iraq’s late dictator was virtually leveled in heavy clashes between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces in a fight for control of the city of Tikrit – Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo


Iraqi policemen stand near wreckage of a vehicle and burned bodies of ISIS militants on the outskirts of al-Alam on March 8, 2015 – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


Members of a Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, flash victory signs during a funeral procession for six of their comrades who were killed in Tikrit, fighting ISIS militants, in Najaf, 100 mi (160 km) south of Baghdad, Iraq, on March 5, 2015. – Jaber al-Helo/AP Photo


Volunteer Shiite fighters, known as the popular mobilization units, who support the Iraqi government forces in the combat against ISIS, fire a Howitzer in the village of Awaynat near the city of Tikrit on February 28, 2015. – Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images


A woman welcomes her brother who came as part of a militias known as Hashid Shaabi to the town of al-Alam on March 10, 2015. Iraqi troops and militias drove Islamic State insurgents out of al-Alam on Tuesday, clearing a final hurdle before a planned assault on Tikrit – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters


A woman hugs her brother, a fighter with a militia known as Hashid Shaabi, as they are reunited in the town of al-Alam, on March 10, 2015. She had been living under ISIS rule for six months – Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters




The Iraqi Federal Police said more than 150 Islamic State fighters have been killed in the ongoing liberation of Tikrit and all of the militants’ bases and facilities in the city have been captured.

“Our forces defused an estimated 520 planted landmines inside the city, while taking control of 13 factories, which were used for making bombs and mines by ISIS fighters,” Jawdat Shakir, Iraqi federal police commander, told local media.

Iraqi security forces said at least 24 hours is still needed to quell remaining pockets of ISIS resistance inside the city.

The Tikrit operation to drive out the extremists began on March 2. Last week, a stalemate in the fighting was broken by airstrikes launched by the US-led coalition after a request from Baghdad.


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