Iraqi offensive to retake Tikrit fails
Despite optimistic reports from Baghdad about the Iraqi army driving to the center of Tikrit, eyewitnesses say the army has now retreated and is regrouping in a city about 15 miles from Saddams former hometown.
Iraqi government forces have reportedly been forced to pull back from the northern city of Tikrit after an offensive to reclaim the city from Sunni Muslim militants was blunted by fierce fighting.
The BBC, citing eyewitnesses, reported Sunday that the Iraqi army had fallen back to the town of Dijla, approximately 15 miles to the south. The witnesses said that the government forces' drive to retake Tikrit had been hampered in part my the large number of improvised explosive devices laid on the approach to the city. The witnesses said that security forces continued to shell the city, though what damage those shells may have done is unclear.
Iraqi officials had claimed that troops had pushed into the heart of the city in what was the biggest attempt yet by the Baghdad government to reverse a series of defeats suffered earlier this month at the hands of the Al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State in Iraq and The Levant (ISIS). The militants have surged across Sunni-majority areas of the north and west, menacing the capital and bringing the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the brink of collapse in the process.
Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein, was overrun by ISIS fighters on June 11 as part of an offensive that also swallowed up Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul.
The governor of Salahuddin province, Ahmed Abdullah al-Jabouri, told The Associated Press that troops pushed into Tikrit itself, reaching the provincial council building.
However, residents reached by telephone Saturday evening said militants were still in control of Tikrit, a predominantly Sunni city of more than 200,000, and patrolling the city's streets.
They confirmed the clashes around the university, and reported fighting between the Islamic State and Iraqi forces to the southeast of the city as well. Some residents described black smoke rising from a presidential palace complex located along the edge of the Tigris River after army helicopters opened fire on the compound.
The disinformation coming from Baghdad is getting comical. But the situation only continues to deteriorate. The Russians sent a shipment of attack planes, but what good they can do in bombing an urban center like Tikrit remains to be seen.
Maliki isn't gone yet, but he's definitely being handed his hat and shown the door. Whether any Shia can salvage support from Sunnis or Kurds is the biggest question for Iraqi leaders. Some kind of secular alternative to a heavy handed Shiite prime minister must be found or Iraq will truly disintegrate.