Top US General Optimistic About Outcome of Tikrit Battle

Top US General Optimistic About Outcome of Tikrit BattleTop US General Optimistic About Outcome of Tikrit Battle

The one-two punch of Iranian-back militias and Iraqi government troops is likely to prevail in the unfolding battle for Tikrit, but it would not have been possible if US airstrikes had not tied down Islamic State fighters elsewhere in northern Iraq, a top US general claimed, AP reported.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said about 23,000 Iranian-based Shiite militiamen and Iraqi soldiers are involved in the offensive.

Dempsey was asked by reporters traveling with him from Washington to Iraq whether he believes the Islamic State group will be pushed out of Tikrit. “Yeah, I do,” he said. “The numbers are overwhelming.”

The offensive is not what the Americans would consider textbook military tactics, he said, describing a huge number of Iraqi Humvees, trucks and other vehicles surging toward Tikrit like rush hour on the Washington Beltway.

Dempsey was flying overnight Friday to Bahrain and later to Iraq to meet with US commanders and Iraqi government leaders. His visit comes at an intriguing stage of the war to force the Islamic State group out of Iraq.

Its fighters swept across much of northern and western Iraq last summer and now control numerous key cities, including Tikrit, which is the birthplace of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The US and its allies have launched hundreds of airstrikes at IS targets since August and credits its attacks with halting the group’s territorial advances. Dempsey said he sees no evidence that the Iranian military is actually doing any of the fighting. They have improved the Iraqi militias’ fighting capabilities.

Islamic State forces had surged into Beyji, which lies just north of Tikrit, in hopes of controlling a key oil refinery there. But they have been halted and tied down by a series of US airstrikes, Dempsey said. That little-noted IS setback has divided and weakened its forces.

“The important thing about this operation in Tikrit is less about how the military aspect of it goes and more about what follows,” Dempsey said.

The mostly Sunni population of Tikrit must be allowed to return to their homes, and the government in Baghdad must step in with reconstruction and humanitarian aid, he said.