Iraq’s state television has announced a plan to deploy 27,000 troops, backed by Shi’ite militias, in an attempt to retake the central city of Tikrit from ISIS, a huge test for the struggling military.
Iraq’s military last made a push against Tikrit in the summer, claiming for weeks they were on the verge of retaking the entire city before withdrawing in defeat, and leaving it in ISIS hands.
The offensive has been coming for awhile, and last week ISIS captured an estimated 100 Sunni tribesmen in the area surrounding Tikrit, believing these tribesmen to be potential allies of the Iraqi government in the battle.
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.
Abadi also offered tribal fighters a “last chance” to surrender to the government’s rule, though needless to say this call is not being taken too seriously, given the military’s lack of success in such offensives in recent months.
Tikrit’s value is primarily not strategy, but as a show of force for the Iraqi military. The home city of former ruler Saddam Hussein, it has often been a key target for Sunni militants, and has been the site of a number of military offensives both during the US occupation and after.