Tens of thousands flee Tikrit as battles rage

Tens of thousands flee Tikrit as battles rage
UN says 28,000 civilians have left Iraqi city in four days of fighting, as Iraqi government reports no significant success in attempts to dislodge fighters loyal to the Islamic State group.
3 min read
05 March, 2015
Iraqi Army and volunteer fighters battle IS in Saladin on March 2, 2015. [Anadolu]

Tens of thousands of people have reportedly fled Tikrit and the city's surrounding areas in four days of fighting between the Islamic State group and Iraqi government forces.

The UN said on Thursday that the fighting had "precipitated displacement of an estimated 28,000 people to Samarra", a UN statement said.

"Field reports indicate that additional displacements are under way and that yet more families remain stuck at checkpoints," it added.

The Iraqi government has reported no advance in the battle to retake Tikrit. Columns of coffins have meanwhile been arriving in large processions heading towards Baghdad and Iraqi cities in the south, according to reports.

IS strikes back

Six IS suicide bombers detonated car bomb in Tal Kasiba, historical Sur Shnas, Tikrit's main street and al-Wihda. The number of casualties in unknown.

IS militants also set fire to a number of oil wells in al-Ajil oil field, south of the city, sending up a blanket of black smoke that disrupted air reconaissance missions by Iraq.

The fighting was at its heaviest at the eastern battlefield, which lasted several hours, and resulted in casualties from both sides. The joint Iraqi forces retreated from the site due to the ferocity of the fighting and the improvised explosive devices dotted around the city.

A local official in the council running Salaheddin province said: "The battles are not going according to plan. Initiatives by some field commanders had complicated matters."

     The mistakes made should not be repeated... otherwise, we will lose more of our troops."
Ali al-Jubouri, of Salaheddin security committee

Ali al-Jubouri, a member of the provincial security committee, separately told al-Araby al-Jadeed: "The battle will drag on as we are fighting individuals who are well versed in terrorism and guerrilla warfare.

"The mistakes made in the past four days should not be repeated and actions must be reset in accordance with the original set plan. Otherwise, we will lose more of our troops."

The federal police chief for Tikrit, lieutenant Raed Shawkat, disputed those claims, saying that Iraqi forces were "making progress and have caused heavy IS losses".

He said: "IS has resorted to playing their well-known card, suicide bombers, who we succeed in eliminating using artillery."

Meanwhile, a senior Iraqi military official said that a new batch of troops and Iraqi Volunteer Forces militia had been sent to Tikrit. The force is estimated to include 3,000 fighters who would provide backup to what the official described as the battlefront.

Baghdad had sent the reinforcements hours after IS announced that hundreds of militants had arrived in Tikrit from Mosul and from Syria.

In a separate development, an Iraqi militia was reported to have bombed the tomb of the former president, Saddam Hussein on Wednesday night.

A prominent tribal leader in the Salaheddin province told al-Araby that dozens of fighters went to Awja, 20km south of Tikrit, to attack the site.