Iraq’s huge offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State group was stalled yesterday by a slew of bombs and the several hundred jihadists holding out in the city. While Iraqi troops and militia were able to surround the jihadists in Tikrit with relative ease, ousting them from the city’s streets has proved far harder.
“The battle to retake Tikrit will be difficult because of the preparations (IS) made,” said Jawwad al-Etlebawi, spokesman for the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite militia that is playing a major role in the operation alongside the regular army. “They planted bombs on all the streets, buildings, bridges, everything.
Iraq has formed paramilitary units dubbed the Popular Mobilisation force to fight alongside the regular army. It is made up largely of Shiite militiamen but the government has attempted to recruit Sunni Arab volunteers to it to join the battle in overwhelmingly Sunni Arab Tikrit. IS posted pictures on Tuesday of the beheadings of four men it said what were recruiters for the units in Salaheddin province.
It also holds significant territory in neighbouring Syria, where it has taken advantage of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, now in its fifth year, to oust government forces and rival rebel groups from a swathe of the east and north.