Iraq Wants Help to Retake Tikrit From IS

Iraq Wants Help to Retake Tikrit From ISIraq Wants Help to Retake Tikrit From IS

Iraqi forces need support from coalition air strikes in Tikrit, where die-hard jihadists are defending their last redoubt with trenches, sandbags and roadside bombs, a top officer said on Sunday.

Two weeks into Baghdad’s biggest operation yet against the Islamic State (IS) group, Iraqi forces have a complete stranglehold on the city but have yet to launch a final assault. Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi said he had asked the defense ministry to request coalition involvement, but “no air support” from foreign allies had yet been provided in Tikrit.

That assertion is supported by daily statements from the coalition that have not mentioned strikes in the area.

Asked if US-led coalition air strikes would help, Saadi said: “Of course... the Americans have advanced equipment, they have AWACS (surveillance) aircraft.”

“They are able to locate the targets exactly” and carry out accurate strikes, he told AFP in an interview at Tikrit University on the northern edge of the city.

“With the advanced technology of the aircraft and weapons they have, of course (strikes) by them are necessary,” Saadi said.

Saadi said that support from the Iraqi air force had been “limited”.

Fighters from the Imam Ali Brigades, a Shiite militia involved in the Tikrit operation, complained to AFP that a Sukhoi jet had even bombed pro-government forces by mistake.

Since IS fighters took the city in June 2014, they have planted bombs underneath every road, according to residents who fled Tikrit.

One police officer gave an estimate of 10,000 IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Tikrit, making any military advance perilous.

“We are reinforcing our offensive capacities in the areas we have cleared and reinforcing our control on the entrances to the city,” an army major general said Sunday.

“IS is putting up sandbags and digging trenches,” he said.

Saadi said that while there were enough personnel trained in explosives disposal, there is a shortage of the equipment they need to carry out the task.

Karim al-Nuri, a spokesman for the volunteer Popular Mobilization units, said on Saturday that he expected Tikrit to be liberated within 72 hours.