On Sunday night, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder Abadi announced that the Iraqi military had launched a major offensive against the ISIS-held city of Tikrit, with some 27,000 ground troops, backed by Shi’ite militias, marching on the city.
The offensive appears to have caught the Obama Administration off guard, and the Pentagon has confirmed they have “no coordination” with the Iraqis on the offensive, and have not been requested to provide any air support.
It doesn’t seem to have been an oversight. Rather, the reports are that Iran is providing artillery and other assets to the offensive, and Iraq apparently decided that in this case, Iranian support would be better than US warplanes.
Iraq tried to retake Tikrit in the summer, launching a multi-week battle during which they repeatedly predicted a military victory in retaking the town of around 200,000 people. They ultimately lost and withdrew from the city.
The US has made a big deal of courting Sunni tribes to fight against ISIS for the Shi’ite dominated government, and while there have been some indications of some tribes being open to that, the Shi’ite militias cracking down on locals in retaken territory have undercut that effort. Many Sunnis have ultimately decided life under ISIS is less objectionable than life under occupation by the Badr Brigade and other militias.
Prime Minister Hayder Abadi appears aware of this risk, and is calling on the fighters invading Tikrit to take care to “spare civilians” during the attack. Exactly how much influence he will have over his own military, let alone the militias, remains to be seen, however.