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Officer says ‘major sacrifices’ needed to retake Tikrit from ISIS

Four Iraqi soldiers were killed and 11 others were wounded after overnight fighting with ISIS in the street in Tikrit

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A senior intelligence officer said on Saturday that “major sacrifices” required on the part of the Iraqi forces to retake Tikrit where street fighting with ISIS militants earlier in the day killed four soldiers in the city.

“The task of liberating Tikrit requires major sacrifices and street fighting, and our forces are ready for these sacrifices,” the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity, indicating that the pause in operations only deferred the inevitable cost.

Iraqi forces and allied paramilitaries have been fighting to retake the city since March 2, but halted ground operations for more than a week in what officials described as a bid to curb human and material losses before pushing forward again.

However, an officer from the Salahuddin province operation command told Reuters on Saturday that Iraqi troops entered Tikrit’s southern Shishin and northern al-Qadisiya neighbourhoods on Friday, after the U.S.-led international alliance carried out air strikes against ISIS.

This led to the killing of four Iraqi soldiers and wounding of 11 other soldiers, who were fighting ISIS in the street in Tikrit overnight.

Most of the Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitaries, which Iraqis call the Popular Mobilization Committees, or Hashid Shaabi in Arabic, are openly hostile to the United States and have opposed coalition air strikes.

Spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister’s office, Rafid Jubouri, said Saturday that Baghdad was the one who asked the U.S.-led coalition to start launching air strikes against ISIS in Tikrit but stressed that the government also wants to keep the Popular Mobilization Committees as key component in its fight against the radical militants.

In Tikrit, ISIS has planted bombs in streets, rigged houses and other buildings with explosives, and built defensive works including berms and tunnels, also booby-trapped, the officer, who spoke with Reuters under the condition of anonymity, said.

ISIS spearheaded a sweeping offensive last June that overran much of Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, and the operation to retake Tikrit is Baghdad’s largest to date against the militants.

A U.S.-led anti-IS coalition began carrying out air strikes in the Tikrit area on Wednesday, a move that increased available firepower in the air but has at least temporarily curbed it on the ground.

Key Iranian-backed militia forces that have done much of the heavy lifting in the drive to push IS back suspended offensive operations after the strikes began, commanders told AFP.

The Pentagon conditioned its intervention on an enhanced role for regular government forces and Friday hailed the withdrawal of “those Shiite militias who are linked to, infiltrated by, (or) otherwise under the influence of Iran.”

Iran had been the most prominent foreign partner in the operation, but Baghdad eventually requested the U.S.-led strikes after the drive stalled.

The battle has continued in the absence of the militia forces, with an army colonel saying there was heavy fighting on the southern outskirts of the city.

The advance was slow due to bombs planted by ISIS but security forces have gained some ground, the colonel said.

(With Reuters and AFP)