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Iraqi soldiers and pro-government Shi'ite militias massing
Image: Reuters/T. Al-Sudani

'IS' under attack in Tikrit

March 3, 2015

Thousands of Iraqi troops and militia are continuing to attack strongholds of the extremist group "IS" north of Baghdad. It is one of the biggest offensives yet against the jihadists.


Iraqi government troops and allied militia, backed by warplanes, on Tuesday pressed on with a major offensive against positions held by the Islamist radical group "Islamic State" in Salahuddin province.

'IS' fighters control several locations in the region, including Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, and have so far resisted several attempts to dislodge them from the city.

Advancing ground forces are being backed by air strikes launched by the Iraqi air force. The Pentagon said the US-led coalition that has being carrying out air strikes on "IS" positions in both Iraq and Syria was not yet involved, as no request for support had been made.

Late on Monday, the governor of Salahuddin said the army had not yet entered central Tikrit or al-Dour.

Army and medical sources said sixteen advancing soldiers had been killed by gunfire and roadside bombs on Monday.

Preparations for Mosul recapture

Commanders say they hope the offensive, the biggest military operation in the province since '"IS" seized swaths of north Iraq last June, could eventually lead to the recapture of Mosul, the jihadists' main hub in the country.

However, a US envoy heading an international coalition against "IS" said on Monday that an offensive to take back Mosul would require elaborate preparation over a considerable period of time.

"We've got to be very careful and we need to resist trying to put a timeline on it," John Allen, a retired general, said.

His remarks came after the Iraqi government responded angrily to a recent comment by a US military official, who said a Mosul counteroffensive was likely by April or May.

'Reconstruction necessary'

Allen emphasized that preparations for an attack on a city like Mosul had to include plans for helping the population once "IS" was driven out.

"[The] preparation isn't just about the clearing force," Allen told an audience at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank.

"These populations have endured enormous abuse and deprivation," he added.

"IS" controls large amounts of territory in northern and western Iraq following a lightning summer offensive last year.

Despite being pushed our of the area around Baghdad, the Kurdish north, and the eastern province of Diyala, the group has retained most of its bastions in Salahuddin and seized new territory in the western province of Anbar.

It also controls regions in eastern Syria, declaring a "caliphate" in the areas of both countries where it holds sway.

tj / rg (Reuters, AFP)

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