Jerome Starkey, Baghdad
Islamic State militants fought off an assault by the Iraqi army yesterday in the home town of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, an illustration of how tough it may be to unseat them in some of their newly acquired territory.
Residents in Tikrit, 160km north of Baghdad, said the Islamic State (Isis) militants captured two tanks and a number of armoured vehicles as they repulsed a two-pronged offensive by the Iraqi forces.
The attack on Tikrit came after Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi special forces, with help from American drones and fighter jets, recaptured Iraq’s largest dam, in the north of the country. President Obama praised the operation to retake Mosul dam as a “major step forward”, but he urged Iraq’s fractured government to forge a united front quickly, because “the wolf is at the door”.
The president pledged not to be drawn into a third Iraq war, yet the defeat in Tikrit, without US air support, underlined Iraq’s reliance on foreign military might.
As the Iraqi army withdrew to a military base in Awja, residents said that an Isis convoy laden with anti-aircraft guns arrived to reinforce their positions. “They started shooting in the air, celebrating the victory,” Abu Sediq, a resident, said.
Isis captured huge swathes of Iraq in June, partly because it was able to exploit the grievances of the Sunni minority, who felt victimised by the Shia regime in Baghdad.
Their lightning advance forced more than a million Shia Muslims, Christians and followers of the Yazidi sect to flee their homes, prompting the United Nations to begin a huge aid mission.
Tarek al-Hashemi, a former vice-president, warned that his country was on the cusp of partition and the only way to avert a civil war was to give Saddam’s Baath party a place in the government. He said the American policy of “de-Baathification”, in the wake of their 2003 invasion, had stripped the country of powerful, professional civilian administrators. (Read more…)