The Iraqi government claimed on Tuesday to have won its most critical victory against the Islamic State militia since the insurgency exploded out of Syria in early 2014 when it announced the capture of the city of Tikrit.
Despite a boycott of the attack on Tikrit by Shiite militias in protest of United States support for the Saudi-led coalition’s action against Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen, Iraqi forces reportedly retook the majority of Saddam Hussein’s birthplace on Tuesday following weeks of fighting. “Tikrit has fallen to us,” read a banner that flashed across state-run television screens in Iraq on Tuesday. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reportedly announced to his cabinet this morning that his forces have “liberated the southern and western sides” of the city.
The city has not yet completely fallen to pro-Baghdad forces, however, according to American officials. “Extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, remained in the much-contested city,” The New York Times reported. “Other top officials in Baghdad moderated the prime minister’s announcement, saying that while gains had been made in the city, the fight was continuing.”
“The Iraqi government had previously promised a quick victory in Tikrit when the offensive began in early March — only to see its forces bogged down by snipers and IEDs after some early gains,” Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio recalled. “While the battle for Tikrit has been billed as a prelude to an offensive to retake ISIS’ stronghold in the northern city of Mosul, that the campaign lasted as long as it did — and required not only a massive number of militiamen but also the eventual assistance of U.S. air support — does not speak well to the readiness of the government to move against a much more difficult target.”
No, it doesn’t. A series of strange reports from February revealed that American and Iraqi war planners intended to begin the assault on Mosul in April, but that date has been forced back by both poor planning and the unanticipated tenacity of ISIS defenders.
Additionally, disturbing reports out of Anbar indicate that ISIS has made advances in the months-long effort to take the province’s capital city of Ramadi.
A Monday dispatch via Vice News revealed what daily life is like for locals with ISIS forces closing in on the city.
“In early March, while the world was watching Iraqi government forces advance on the Islamic State (IS) in Tikrit, IS was launching a series of assaults on what little remains of the Government-held parts of the provincial capital, Ramadi, which has been under siege for over a year,” Vice’s report read. “In a series of interviews, Iraqi officials told VICE News that they fear Islamic State fighters will overrun what remains of Government-held Ramadi if the US did not intervene with air support. According to police in Ramadi, more than 2,000 officers have been killed since January 2014, when the Islamic State — then known mainly as ISIS or ISIL — first announced its presence in the city.”
For the new campaign in the Middle East targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, every new victory is qualified in some fashion. While the news from Tikrit is largely good for pro-Western forces, a setback of the Western position in Anbar Province suggests that victory over ISIS in Iraq is many months away.