Battle lines drawn in Tikrit offensive

Battle lines drawn in Tikrit offensive
Iraqi forces are pounding Tikrit with shells and missiles, while IS are returning fire. Iraqi military sources say that they have the advantage in the battle, as IS supply lines run thinner.
3 min read
04 March, 2015
The Tikrit offensive is seen as the start of a wider campaign against IS [al-Araby]

A military offensive on Tikrit launched by the Iraqi army and supporting militias has entered its third day, but the re-capture of the city remains elusive.

There are reports of attacks and counter-offensives between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS) with differing accounts of the numbers of casualties.

An al-Araby al-Jadeed reporter has been observing the fighting from the front lines, and says that the advances by the Iraqi army have reached two kilometres from the city limits on one front.

The reporter says that there have been no instances of close quarter combat or sounds of rifles, and instead has been limited primarily to exchanges in artillery and rocket fire.

Information obtained by al-Araby indicates that IS boasts of between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters in the city, including approximately 100 suicide bombers.

Around 300 of these fighters from the Abu Dujana al-Ansari brigade are composed of foreign fighters from North Africa, Yemen and Syria.

With a heavy artillery barrage hitting the city, IS fighters are reportedly hiding in the thick groves that surround the west and north, according to an adviser with the ministry of defence.

"These are the estimated numbers of IS fighters in the city and they possess a large cache of heavy, medium and light arms, in addition to tanks and heavy artillery that they seized when they occupied Tikrit on 13 June last year," said Mohammad al-Jubouri who has accompanied the Iraqi forces.

     They will fight to the end and they have suicide belts for each fighter to prevent them from being captured.
- Mohammad al-Jabouri, defence adviser

"Our information suggests that they will fight to the end and they have suicide belts for each fighter to prevent them from being captured. Therefore the battle will be hard."

Jabouri said that, despite IS having the advantage of digging in, Iraq has a constant supply of weapons and reinforcements, in addition to air support.

"IS cannot replace the missiles it launches, unlike us. Their fighters are decreasing as they now face a war of attrition that will not last long," he said.

An officer in the Iraqi army said that 56 members of the security forces and militias had been killed in the battle, while 119 people had been wounded.

"We expect the number of IS dead to be between 30 and 40 fighters due to the shelling on locations inside the city," he said.

A leading figure in the Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas militia said that Shia clerics in Najaf and Karbala have urged fighters to confront IS bravely, even if it results in their deaths.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.