By Jamal Hashim
Thousands of Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite and Sunni militias are conducting fierce offensive for the second day on Tuesday in Salahudin province to free the northern parts of the province from the Islamic State (IS) militants.Residents of Tabqa city tour the streets on motorcycles, carrying flags in celebration after Tabqa air base fell to Islamic State militants, in nearby Raqqa city August 24, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
The troops and militiamen, covered by Iraqi aircraft, retook control of the town of Himreen in southeast of the provincial capital city of Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, a provincial security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The troops also took positions around Tikrit itself, as well as the town of Dour, while fierce clashes continued to recapture the redoubts of the IS militants across the province.
The Iraqi security forces began their operation via five paths; two from Mkesheifa and Sur Shnas, south of Tikrit, two others from Udheim and Tuz Khurmato, east of Tikrit, and the last from the Speicher airbase, just north of Tikrit, according to security sources.
The offensive was designed to seal off the city of Tikrit and the nearby towns of Dour and al-Alam, which are under the IS control, by seizing the main roads and villages around them.
So far, the IS militants are losing the opened lands and strategic roads around the cities and towns, but still capturing the urban areas, except for the small town of Himreen.
Security officials in the province insisted that the troops advancing in the province were only getting air support from the Iraqi aircraft, with no assistance from the U.S.-led coalition, apparently to prove that the Iraq security forces and allied militias are strong enough and capable of driving the extremist militants without the coalition help.
“I can confirm that no coalition aircraft participated in the battles of the latest offensive in Salahudin province. There were only the Iraqi warplanes and helicopters who provided air support to the troops,” Sheikh Jasim al-Jbarra, head of the security committee of the provincial council, told Xinhua.
Ibrahim al-Ameri, a lecturer of politics in a Baghdad college, told Xinhua that the Iraqi top military officials believe that the battles would take a few days, because they expected that the IS militants would not dare to fight inside Tikrit and the other towns.
“The military commanders see that the IS militants in the urban areas will be isolated from their supply routes and because they are outnumbered by the troops and militiamen,” Ameri said.
In addition to the fact that the Iraqi media have been heavily focusing on the huge mobilization of the security forces and militias in an attempt to win the battle by weakening the morale of the IS militants, he added.
Ameri said that the officials’ prediction came from what happened in the town of Kobane in Syria as the IS militants sustained heavy and painful casualties.
“I don’t think they are ready to do it again in Tikrit or anywhere in Salahudin province. It was hard experience for them in Kobane,” Ameri said.
Some media reports apparently support such prediction that the IS militants will withdraw to Mosul to avoid street battles when they said the extremist group executed many of its militants because they fled the scenes of the battlegrounds in front of the Iraqi security forces.
However, if the predictions were wrong and the IS militants would decide to fight back in the urban areas, the battle will take longer time and the Iraqi forces will be obliged to call in the U.S.-led coalition.
The battles in Salahudin province will have major impact on the plans to go further to the north to free Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad, which has been under the IS control since last June.
But, if the offensive dawdled, it will complicate and delay the planned advance toward Mosul. If the Shiite militiamen make some wrongdoings and take revenge from Sunni community in Salahudin, that would put negative impact on the efforts to advance and to win the battles in the Sunni-populated city of Mosul.
Observers here believe that it would be better for Baghdad to wait longer until we have ready army to fight IS militants instead of depending on Shiite militias. But that will give IS longer time to tighten its grip on the northern part of the country.
Therefore, Baghdad chose to strike quickly even by depending mainly on the Shiite militias than waiting longer.
“That was the risk taken by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who ordered the offensive on Saturday night,” Ameri said.
However, when Abadi announced the commencement of the offensive, he was keen to order his troops and militiamen to avoid civilian casualties in order to avoid possible frictions between the Sunni population and the Shiite militias.
“The priority that we gave to the armed forces and all the forces fighting alongside with them is to preserve the lives of the citizens and to do their utmost care to protect their properties,” Abadi told reporters in Samarra late Saturday.
For his part, Sabah al-Sheikh, a professor in a Baghdad University, sees that Abadi’s move to launch the offensive has positive impacts on the level of countering terrorism in Iraq and could give a great push to the efforts of national reconciliation in the country.
“Liberating Salahudin would prevent the extremist militants from using their supply routes in the provinces of Diyala, Kirkuk, Anbar and Nineveh, because Salahudin is in the middle of all these provinces,” al-Sheikh told Xinhua.
“It will also deprive the group’s maneuverability to transfer its militants and weapons from any province to another, and that would pave the way to liberate other provinces,” he said.
Al-Sheikh sees that Tikrit liberation and other towns in the province would let hundreds of thousands of displaced Sunni families who left their homes after the IS militants seized their towns.
In addition, bringing the Shiite young men and the Sunni tribesmen together to fight a brutal enemy would close the ranks of both Muslim communities and let the Sunnis feel that they are no more disenfranchised by the Shiite-led government.
“The victory in Salahudin is substantial to those who left their homes and unity of the Iraqi society as long as both Sunnis and Shiites will be unified in fighting one enemy,” al-Sheikh said.
Al-Sheikh was referring to the grievances of the Sunni Arabs who carried out wide-spread and regular protests since December 2012, complaining about injustice, marginalization, discrimination, double standards and politicization of the judicial system.
They also accusing the Shiite-dominated security forces of indiscriminately arresting, torturing and killing their sons.
The deep division in the Iraqi society created a proper atmosphere for the extremist groups, including the IS, to gain support from the angry citizens. Enditem

Source: Xinhua


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