Islamic State repels Iraqi military’s 3rd attempt to retake Tikrit

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The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of large areas lost in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces after the Islamic State and its allies began their offensive on June 10. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and other major towns and cities in northern and central Iraq are firmly under the control of the Islamic State or contested 

Kurdish fighters stand guard at the Mosul Dam in Mosul in northern Iraq August 19, 2014.  REUTERS-Stringer

By BILL ROGGIOAugust 19, 2014

One day after suffering a defeat at the Mosul dam by the Peshmerga and US and Iraqi forces, the Islamic State and its allies beat back an Iraqi Army assault that was designed to retake control of the central city of Tikrit. The Islamic State and its allies have now repelled three Iraqi military attempts to regain Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province, which has been out of government control for more than two months.

Earlier this morning, Iraqi forces launched “a wide military campaign to liberate the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State,” All Iraq News Agency reported. “The security forces will liberate the city and eliminate the ISIL [Islamic State] terrorists,” an Iraqi official told the news agency.

But the Iraqi forces, which attacked Tikrit from several directions, broke off their assault by the afternoon after taking “heavy machine gun and mortar fire” from the south, and encountering “landmines and snipers” west of the city, Reuters reported.

“Residents of central Tikrit said by telephone that Islamic State fighters were firmly in control of their positions and patrolling the main streets,” Reuters noted.

The Islamic State and its Baathist allies in Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit have defeated two other attempts by the Iraqi military and supporting militias to reestablish government control of the provincial capital, which fell to the Islamic State and its allies on June 11.

At the end of June, Iraqi forces air assaulted into Tikrit University to the north of the city while ground forces advanced from the south. That offensive stalled and Iraqi forces withdrew from the city after heavy fighting.

And on July 15, Iraqi soldiers and supporting militias advanced on the city from the south, but withdrew one day later after being drawn into a deadly complex ambush that included IED traps, suicide bombers, and snipers.

The latest failed Tikrit offensive highlights the poor state of the Iraqi armed forces. The military has often been forced to cobble together units since at least four of Iraq’s 16 regular army divisions are no longer viable. The Long War Journal estimates that at least seven divisions have been rendered ineffective since the beginning of the year [see Threat Matrix report, US advisers give dark assessment of state of Iraqi military].

In many areas of Iraq, the military is fighting alongside poorly trained militias who are ill-suited to conducting offensive operations. Additionally, SWAT and special forces, while highly trained and likely more motivated than regular forces, are often being misused as infantry.

The Iraqi military and the government have been unable to regain control of large areas lost in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces after the Islamic State and its allies began their offensive on June 10. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and other major towns and cities in northern and central Iraq are firmly under the control of the Islamic State or contested.

The Islamic State also holds most of Anbar as well as northern Babil province. Fallujah and other cities and towns fell after the Islamic State went on the offensive in Anbar at the beginning of January. The Iraqi military has been unable to retake areas in Anbar lost earlier this year. Half of Ramadi, the provincial capital, is said to be under the Islamic State’s control. The military recently airlifted 4,000 militiamen to Ramadi, a further indication that the two Iraqi divisions stationed in Anbar, the 1st and the 7th, are no longer cohesive fighting forces.

The only places where the Islamic State and its allies have lost ground are in some areas of northern Iraq where they encroached into territory controlled by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Earlier this month, the Islamic State took over the Mosul Dam, the city of Sinjar, and a series of towns and villages north and east of Mosul after the Peshmerga retreated, often without a fight. The Peshmerga recently retook the Mosul Dam and those same villages, but only after the US military intervened and launched a series of airstrikes that targeted Islamic State armored personnel carriers, technicals, convoys, mortar pits, and other military targets.

Read more: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/08/islamic_state_repell.php#ixzz3AtfFfo6n

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Islamic State video purports to show beheading of U.S. journalist

Earlier, Iraqi forces halted a short-lived offensive on Tuesday to recapture Tikrit, home town of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, due to fierce resistance from Islamic State fighters.

Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the militants after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shi’ite militias launched their offensive shortly after dawn on Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority. But officers in the Iraqi forces’ operations room said by mid-afternoon that the advance had stopped. South of Tikrit, the government side came under heavy machinegun and mortar fire from the militants, a group of Arab and foreign fighters hardened by battle both in Iraq and over the border .in Syria’s civil war, the officers told Reuters. To the west, landmines and snipers frustrated efforts to get closer to the city center in the latest in a series of attempts to drive out the militants. Residents of central Tikrit said by telephone that .Islamic State fighters were firmly in control of their positions and patrolling the main street

1 OF 7. Kurdish fighters stand guard at the Mosul Dam in Mosul in northern Iraq August 19, 2014.

BY AHMED RASHEED AND MICHAEL GEORGY

BAGHDAD Tue Aug 19, 2014 7:24pm ED

(Reuters) – Islamist militants fighting in Iraq released a video on Tuesday which purported to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley and U.S. officials said they were working to determine its authenticity.

The video, titled “A Message to America,” was released a day after Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot that has overrun large parts of Iraq, threatened to attack Americans “in any place.”

“We have seen a video that purports to be the murder of U.S. citizen James Foley by ISIL,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “The intelligence community is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity.”

“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” she said.

Islamic State militants also claimed in the video to be holding U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff and said his life depended on U.S. President Barack Obama’s next move. The video was posted after Obama resumed air strikes in Iraq for the first time since the end of the U.S. occupation in 2011.

“The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” said a masked man in the video posted on social media sites, speaking English with a British accent as he held a prisoner the video named as Sotloff, who went missing in northern Syria while he was reporting in July 2013.

Foley was kidnapped on Nov. 22, 2012, in Syria by unidentified gunmen.

A Twitter account set up by Foley’s family said on Tuesday: “We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers. Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers.”

In another video on Tuesday, Islamic State spoke of a holy war with the United States and said it would emerge victorious over the “crusader” America. It showed footage of Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, as well as attacks on U.S. soldiers.

FIERCE RESISTANCE

Earlier, Iraqi forces halted a short-lived offensive on Tuesday to recapture Tikrit, home town of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, due to fierce resistance from Islamic State fighters.

Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the militants after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shi’ite militias launched their offensive shortly after dawn on Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority.

But officers in the Iraqi forces’ operations room said by mid-afternoon that the advance had stopped.

South of Tikrit, the government side came under heavy machinegun and mortar fire from the militants, a group of Arab and foreign fighters hardened by battle both in Iraq and over the border in Syria’s civil war, the officers told Reuters.

To the west, landmines and snipers frustrated efforts to get closer to the city center in the latest in a series of attempts to drive out the militants. Residents of central Tikrit said by telephone that Islamic State fighters were firmly in control of their positions and patrolling the main streets.

Sunni Muslim fighters led by the Islamic State swept through much of northern and western Iraq in June, capturing the Sunni cities of Tikrit and Mosul as well as the Mosul Dam, a fragile structure which controls water and power supplies to millions of people down the Tigris river valley.

On Monday, fighters from Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region said they had regained control of the hydro electric dam with the help of U.S. air strikes. Obama announced that the dam had been retaken.

The Pentagon said U.S. fighter aircraft conducted two air strikes near the Mosul Dam in the last day. One destroyed an Islamic State checkpoint.

Obama ordered the U.S. air strikes earlier this month, he said, to protect Americans and prevent a genocide in a conflict that has forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes, including from the Yazidi and Christian religious minorities.

The Islamic State has concentrated on taking territory for its self-proclaimed caliphate both in Syria, where it is also fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, and in Iraq. Unlike al Qaeda, the movement from which it split, it has so far steered clear of attacking Western targets in or outside the region.

Coinciding with the Kurdish advances, Damascus government forces have stepped up air strikes on Islamic State positions in and around the city of Raqqa – its stronghold in eastern Syria.

Analysts believe Assad – who is firmly in control in the capital more than three years into the civil war – is seizing the moment to show his potential value to Western states that backed the uprising against him but are now increasingly concerned by the Islamic State threat.

The Islamic State added new fighters in Syria at a record rate in July, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict. About 6,300 men – ۸۰ percent of them Syrian and the rest foreigners – joined last month, Rami Abdelrahman, founder of the Observatory, told Reuters.

 

GERMANY WEIGHS ARMS

The Islamic State’s successes since June have alarmed governments both in the West and in the region.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday that Germany would decide this week whether to send arms to Iraqi Kurds, suggesting it might be irresponsible to do nothing.

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in the country, said on Tuesday that the Islamic State and al Qaeda were “enemy number one of Islam” and not in any way part of the faith.

Efforts are under way in Baghdad to form a new government that will unite the majority Shi’ites with the Sunnis and Kurds in halting the Islamic State insurgency that threatened to tear the country apart.

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency announced a major aid operation to get supplies to more than half a million people displaced by fighting in northern Iraq.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing byDavid Stamp and Jim Loney; Editing by Anna Willard, Giles Elgood and Howard Goller)

 

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