Iraq: 30,000 Sunnis flee as Shiite Militias, Army, approach Tikrit

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The Iraqi military and allied Shiite militias are mounting a campaign to take the largely Sunni town of Tikrit (original pop. 300,000), which is alleged to have been planned and is being directed by the Jerusalem (Quds) Brigade, the foreign special ops arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Quds Brigade commander Qasim Solaimani has been photographed on site.

Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi appears to have ordered this campaign despite the fears of the US that the Iraqi army was not ready for it and that insufficient effort had been expended to raise Sunni tribal levies. As it is, perhaps two thirds of the attacking forces are Shiite militiamen trained and equipped by Iran. The US is not giving it close air support, allegedly as part of a deal Washington made with PM al-Abadi that Iran could take part in the Tikrit campaign but the US as a result would not. The US does not want Iran involved in the coming Mosul campaign because the largely Sunni city of some one million would not accept Iranian special forces.

Tikrit is from all accounts a ghost town. Much of its population fled last summer when Daesh took it over. In the past week, another 30,000— ten percent of its prewar population— has fled. Sunni townspeople hitting the road have torn up sheets to wave as white flags of surrender if they encounter Shiite militiamen, of whom they are terrified, saying that the militiamen are often seeking revenge. Iraqi government sources say that this fear is overblown, and that 4000 Sunni fighters have joined in against Daesh.

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The Iranian press in Arabic, al-`Alam, reports that the Iraqi Army and Shiite militias had surrounded Tikrit and cut off resupply routes for Daesh. [The Iraqi press contradicts this allegation, saying that the Daesh position in Tikrit is receiving reinforcements from the north.] They also chased Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) from villages southeast of Tikrit and were now at the threshold of al-Dur district. It claimed that the Baghdad forces had inflicted a terrible toll on the Daesh fighters, and had managed to defuse two truck bombs in the district. The Iraqi army has, it says, liberated a housing complex in al-Dur, killing dozens of Daesh fighters. There were 33 casualties among the Shiite militias and the Iraqi army.

Daesh sources deny that the army and the Shiite militias have in fact made much progress toward the city.

15 Responses

  1. “The US is not giving it close air support”

    Hmm. Isn’t close air support a major factor in every US ground operation? It’s inconceivable that the US would undertake something like the Tikrit offensive without virtually unlimited availability of close air support.

    I guess when Iran is in the neighborhood, winning is not the “only thing”.

      • What I mean is that the US is withholding air support from an ally in a situation where , if it were a US operation, close air support would be an absolute necessity.

      • Let hope they have enough competence to take the fight all the way to Syria, the site of the caliph and finish ISIL.

  2. Yeah, well. Quite a bit could go wrong. And it is not altogether a laughing matter. There have been famous massacres of Shi’is by ISIS. It seems more than likely that there will now be revenge massacres going the other way–if the Iraqi army is successful. That would strengthen ISIS, and make any cooperation from the people of Mosul out of the question.

  3. what is the plan exactly? what will be left of tikrit? who will be running the ruined city? what is the longterm plan after clearing the city? i am relieved that the u.s. is not more directly involved. i hope it stays that way.

  4. John McCain and Lindsey Graham can’t be too happy about this development. geez Neither can Bibi Netanyahu unless Iran goes overboard and drops one of their NUCLEAR BOMBS on Tikrit.

    “Do YOU Americans believe me NOW?” Your friend forever, Bibi.

    • June, 2014, right after Mosul fell to the ISIS bad guys.

      “The Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall. We need to coordinate with the Iranians.” Sen. Lindsey Graham

      Last week…”The enemy of your enemy is your enemy.” Bibi Netanyahu The all time flip-flop because it can be used against any group in the Middle East depending on the military situation at that particular time.

      Here’s how that works: If ISIS reverses their numerous setbacks in Syria and Iraq AND begins another drive toward Baghdad, we would need to work with Iran to make sure Baghdad didn’t fall just like Sen. Graham suggested last June. But once the ISIS drive on Baghdad peters out and the Shiites move toward Tikrit and Mosul, “FLIP-FLOP” Iran becomes the threat.

      It’s the Middle East version of the ground hog movie.

  5. Prof Cole what are your estimates on how many Iraqi people have died as a direct consequence of U.S. invasion, sanctions etc over the last 2o some years?

    • If you count indirectly caused deaths (e.g. interdiction of chlorine for water purification, creating power vacuum in which deadly militias flourished, etc.), it would be at least a million.

  6. Can’t blame the Iranians for wanting in on taking Saddam’s old town. The Americans are giving the Iraqi forces a chance to work together with Iranian forces before they decide on what to do to Mosul.

  7. a few years back,
    I was chided for asserting in these comments that the “Iraqi Army” and “Iraqi National Police” were both about 90% Shi’a. But those estimates turned out to be pretty accurate.
    Has the proportion of Sunnis in these outfits gone up much in the last 4 or so years ?
    I suspect not, but haven’t read and recent reports.

  8. The Iranian’s did a good job training Hezbollah. Maybe they’ll do the same here with the militias and the Iraqi Army.

    As T.E.Lawrence always intended to say (and maybe did)
    On to Damascus.

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