They have lined up hundreds of cartridges of mortar shells they say IS fighters fired during the battle for the city. An old police commander steps up to the interior minister and reports that his unit lost 60 troops during the fighting. But, he adds, the streets of Tikrit’s Qadisiya district are littered with the corpses of IS fighters.

The atmosphere is euphoric and people would love to believe the interior minister’s claims that the situation is improving, but the soldiers know that the recapture of Tikrit is only a minor victory in a prolonged war — and even Tikrit has not really been liberated. In the center of town, a small group of IS fighters and their civilian hostages remains entrenched. Worse, they have mined the city, making further advances by the army too dangerous for the time being, says the commander.

The operation in Tikrit is the largest military offensive to date against IS, which has conquered large areas of Iraq since last year, often without meeting any resistance. By early March, the “caliphate” extended from the Turkish border to just 60 kilometers short of Baghdad. But since then it has begun to shrink along the edges.