Backed by allied Shiite and Sunni fighters, Iraqi security forces on Monday began a large-scale military operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the Islamic State extremist group, state TV said, a major step in a campaign to reclaim a large swath of territory in northern Iraq controlled by the militants.
The city of Tikrit, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, fell into the hands of the Islamic State group last summer along with the country’s second-largest city of Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland after the collapse of national security forces. Tikrit is one of the largest cities held by the Islamic State group and sits on the road to Mosul.
Security forces have so far been unable to retake Tikrit, but momentum has begun to shift after soldiers, backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition, recently took back the nearby refinery town of Beiji. Any operation to take Mosul likely would require Iraq to seize Tikrit first because of its strategic location for military enforcements.
Al-Iraqiya television said that the forces were attacking Tikrit from different directions, backed by artillery and airstrikes by Iraqi fighter jets. It said the militants were dislodged from some areas outside the city, but gave no details.
— Sakir Khader (@sakirkhader) March 2, 2015
Iraq is bitterly divided between minority Sunnis, who were an important base of support for Saddam, and the Shiite majority. The cooperation between Shiite and Sunni fighters in Monday’s operation was an important development in the battle against the Islamic State group, though the presence of Shiite forces in the Sunni area risks prompting a backlash in the future.
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