Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Declaring Victory in Tikrit

Iraq's Prime Minister declared today that Tikrit has fallen to Iraqi forces, but this claim is contradicted by his own commanders at the scene:
In Tikrit, however, an Iraqi general, who asked not to be named so as to avoid openly contradicting the prime minister, said that reports of Tikrit’s fall were at best premature. “God willing, it will fall,” he said.

Other military officers and a civilian official reached in Tikrit said it was true that Iraqi forces had advanced into the center of the city and had entered government buildings and parts of the Republican Palace. But they said that parts of the palace remained in Islamic State hands and that fighting was continuing.

A Pentagon spokesman said in a statement that “we can confirm” the security forces’ “advancement into Tikrit to liberate the city center as well as other parts of the city.”
So at least the offensive is moving again. I can't believe that American airstrikes have crippled the Islamic State's forces in just six days, but maybe they have shifted the morale equation enough to make this advance possible. But the befuddled situation in the Iraqi government makes me nervous.

UPDATE

This is from an interesting article by Mike Giglio about how much the Islamic State relies on booby traps and IEDs rather than conventional defensive warfare:
Soldiers who push into ISIS territory looking for a fight often find themselves instead facing explosive traps and sniper fire. “There is no confrontation between fighters,” complained a fighter with the Badr Brigades, one of the largest in the coalition of Shiite militias that has taken up arms against ISIS, which preaches an extremist version of Sunni Islam. “It’s not like a normal war.”
And this:
The peshmerga have defused or detonated more than 6,000 IEDs along their 650-mile front with ISIS since the war began in August, Kurdish officials said. Those were the ones they’d been able to find. Mohammad pointed to the fields that stretched to a set of hills on one side of the road and the village with the flattened home on the other. “To be honest, we believe that those open fields beneath the hills, and the hills, are filled with IEDs. All those houses are full of IEDs,” he said.
So maybe what was stopping the Iraqi forces was their or their officers' fear of IEDs, and all that was necessary to get the offensive going was American bombing of a few locations known to be booby trapped and then a bit of nerve.

2 comments:

David said...

It seems to me quite possible that US airstrikes have changed the equation that much in six days, but I can't help imagining some alternative scenarios:

1) Someone finally paid a Shi'ite militia leader enough to go ahead even though the Americans are insisting that he not massacre Sunni civilians.

2) The Iranian government decided that it was in their interest for the offensive to continue.

3) Someone got some Kurds to come down.

4) Some key Iraqi leader has now signed off on the operation because he finally persuaded his hotheaded second cousin to abandon ISIS and bring his fighters back to the government.

5) The Iraqi Shi'ite leadership got nervous after the US started cozying back up to Egypt and the Saudis, and decided to do something that would please the Americans.

Just some ideas.

David

John said...

I was also thinking that a back channel deal had been made between the Iraqi government and some faction of the Islamic State, letting their fighters leave Tikrit. That would explain why they knew in Baghdad that the battle was effectively over before the generals on the scene.