As ISIS Withdraws Iraq Faces Real Test of Holding Tikrit

Fears of Shi'ite Militias Killing Sunni Locals Abound

After two days of premature declarations of victory, the latest indications are that the last of ISIS’ fighters are withdrawing from the Iraqi city of Tikrit, leaving behind a slew of booby traps and a city which will serve as an enormous test for the Iraqi troops now occupying it.

The biggest question is probably not going to be booby trap cleanup, but the ability of the Iraqi government to manage the takeover, carried out with large numbers of Shi’ite militias, in what is an almost exclusively Sunni city.

The Shi’ite militias already carried out some ugly purges of locals around the outskirts of Tikrit when the offensive was struggling to get off the ground, and a history of sectarian attacks in the wake of takeovers is looming large, with the risk that any serious abuses in Tikrit will not only provoke a backlash there, but convince Sunnis in other ISIS-held cities to help defend from Iraqi offensives to prevent them falling back into Iraqi government hands.

US officials are trying to downplay the concerns about sectarian crackdowns, despite that being the real risk here, and are instead focusing on the next offensive, saying Iraqi forces hope to take the central city of Baiji and its associated refinery next.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of