News / Middle East

    Iraqi Forces Battle ISIL Fighters for Tikrit

    FILE - Iraqi federal policemen are seen patrolling Baghdad's Abu Ghraib suburb June 28, 2014.
    FILE - Iraqi federal policemen are seen patrolling Baghdad's Abu Ghraib suburb June 28, 2014.
    VOA News

    Iraq's army sent tanks and armored vehicles on Sunday to try to dislodge insurgents from the northern city of Tikrit, which Sunni militants had overtaken on June 11.

    It was the second day of a major pushback by Iraq’s military against the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which announced the establishment of a caliphate, stretching from Iraq's Diyala province to Syria's Aleppo.

    ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said the group's chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the new leader, or caliph, of the Islamic state. He called on those living in the areas under the organization's control to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and support him.

    In Baghdad, which is threatened by the rebel advance, top Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers scrambled to agree cabinet nominations before parliament meets on Tuesday to try to prevent the rebel advance jeopardizing Iraq's future as a unitary state.

    Lawmakers are racing against time as Sunni insurgents led by ISIL, an al-Qaida offshoot that loathes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government, consolidate their grip on the north and west.

    Maliki's political future after eight years in power will be the most contentious issue.

    Troops backed by helicopter gunships began the assault on Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein, on Saturday, to try to take it back from insurgents who have swept to within driving range of Baghdad.

    Battle for Tikrit

    The army sent in tanks and helicopters to battle ISIL militants near the University of Tikrit in the city's north on Sunday, security sources said. Two witnesses said they saw a military helicopter gunned down and crash near a market, Reuters reported.

    There were conflicting reports as to how far the military advanced in its initial thrust toward the northern city, the Associated Press reported.

    Russian soldiers unload a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad, June 28, 2014.Russian soldiers unload a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad, June 28, 2014.
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    Russian soldiers unload a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad, June 28, 2014.
    Russian soldiers unload a Russian Sukhoi SU-25 plane in al-Muthanna Iraqi military base at Baghdad airport in Baghdad, June 28, 2014.

    Iraqi army spokesman Major General Qassim Atta told reporters in Baghdad security forces had killed 142 “terrorists” over the last 24 hours across Iraq, including 70 in Tikrit, and said the armed forces were in control of Tikrit's university.

    Both claims were impossible to immediately verify.

    “Our security forces have taken complete control of the University of Tikrit and they have raised the Iraqi flag on top of the building,” Atta said.

    The offensive was the first major attempt by the army to retake territory after the United States sent up to 300 advisers, mostly special forces, and drones to help the government take on ISIL.

    Earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani, one of Iraq's most senior politicians, faulted the U.S. for not doing enough to bolster the country's military.

    “Yes, there has been a delay from the Americans in handing over the contracted arms. We told them, 'You once did an air bridge to send arms to your ally Israel, so why don't you give us the contracted arms in time?’ ” he told al-Hurra television.

    U.S. officials have disputed similar statements from Iraqi officials in the past and say they have done everything possible to ensure the country is equipped with modern weaponry.

    Russian jets

    His comments came a day after Iraq received several secondhand Russian fighter jets to use in the fight against the militants.

    A Reuters photographer saw the jets unloaded from a transport plane at a military airport in Baghdad as Russian and Iraqi soldiers stood on the tarmac. Iraq has relied largely on helicopters to counter militants and has few aircraft that can fire advanced missiles.

    On Saturday, Iraqi troops launched an assault on Tikrit from the direction of Samarra to the south, where the military has drawn its line in the sand against the insurgents' advance toward Baghdad.

    Atta, the military spokesman, said on Saturday militants were struggling because “their morale has started to collapse,” however, the insurgents seemed to be showing resilience with the backing of some local Sunni tribes.

    Insurgents retained control of the city on Sunday.

    The clashes have taken their toll on civilians.

    At least four people were killed, including two women, when helicopters struck a gathering of people preparing for a wedding ceremony in Al Bu Hayazi, a village east of Tikrit on Saturday evening, witnesses and relatives of the victims said, as reported by Reuters.

    Members of Kurdish security forces patrol after clashes with the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the village of Basheer, south of the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, June 29, 2014.Members of Kurdish security forces patrol after clashes with the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the village of Basheer, south of the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, June 29, 2014.
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    Members of Kurdish security forces patrol after clashes with the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the village of Basheer, south of the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, June 29, 2014.
    Members of Kurdish security forces patrol after clashes with the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the village of Basheer, south of the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, June 29, 2014.

    The military did not immediately respond to request for comment on the incident.

    On Sunday, intermittent clashes broke out from the early morning between militants and government forces in the northeastern outskirts of the town of Jurf al-Sakhar,  83 kilometers south of Baghdad.

    Forming new government

    Politicians are under pressure to speed up the normally sluggish process of selecting a new government to face the crisis. A parliament elected in April is due to be seated on Tuesday to begin the process.

    In a statement on Sunday, the United Nations mission in Iraq urged all representatives to attend the session on Tuesday and move forward with selecting a new government.

    “Faced with a national crisis, the political leaders of Iraq should put the interests of the country and its people before everything else,” Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said in the statement.

    But already, there was evidence some would resist calls for a quick government formation process. The 21-seat bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, announced it was skipping the session in two days.

    The bloc said more time was needed to avoid the mistakes of the last government.

    Politicians from the National Alliance, parliament's biggest bloc, said in a statement they were committed to joining the session and following the legal timetable for the formation, but were close-lipped about who they would back for prime minister.

    Under Iraq's governing system put in place after Saddam's overthrow, the prime minister has always been a Shi'ite, the largely ceremonial president a Kurd and the speaker of parliament a Sunni. None of those groups has made a clear decision about who to put forward for the posts.

    It took nearly 10 months for Maliki to build a coalition to stay in office after the last election in 2010, but officials say it can ill-afford such delays this time around.

    Divided over Maliki

    In a stunning political intervention on Friday, Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, added his voice to the fray, making it clear politicians could not delay the process at a moment of crisis.

    Maliki, whose State of Law coalition won the most seats in the April election, was positioning himself for a third term before the ISIL offensive began. His closest allies said he still aims to stay, but senior State of Law figures have said he could be replaced with a less polarizing figure.

    “It's a card game and State of Law plays a poker game very well,” an official from the premier's alliance said. “For the prime minister, it will go down to the wire.”

    Elsewhere on Sunday:

    Israeli support: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for  Kurdish statehood on Sunday, taking a position that appeared to clash with the U.S. preference to keep sectarian war-torn Iraq united.

    Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, seeing in the minority ethnic group a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.

    Christians return: Thousands of Christian Iraqis were returning to their homes in an area known as Hamdaniya on Sunday, after an artillery offensive by Sunni militants sent them fleeing to Irbil in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq earlier in the week.  

     

     
    Many attended Sunday mass conducted by the Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church, Ignatius Joseph III, at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Irbil before boarding buses back to Hamdaniya, 75 kilometers from the frontier of the self-ruled Kurdish region.  
     
    The Christians were forced to flee, seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish enclave following the shelling of a cluster of villages on Wednesday.

     

    Workers evacuated: Also, more than 1,200 Chinese workers have been relocated from conflict-torn northern Iraq to Baghdad, state media said on Sunday.

    The report added that eight Iraqi armored vehicles escorted the workers from the city of Samarra, where they had been working at a construction site of a local power plant.

    The employees of the state-run China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC) were successfully evacuated late last week and are due to return to Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

    China is the largest foreign investor in Iraq's oil industry and has more than 10,000 workers in the country, officials say, although most are in the south and far from the current fighting.

    Crucifixions: Across the frontier in Syria, ISIL fighters crucified eight men in the northern Aleppo province, a monitoring group said. ISIL accused them of being "Sahwa" fighters, a term it uses for rival fighters it says are controlled by Western powers.

    The men were crucified in the town square of Deir Hafer in eastern Aleppo and would be left there for three days, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

    • Members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant wave ISIL flags as they drive around Raqqa, Iraq, June 29, 2014.
    • Iraqi troops monitor an area west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq, June 29, 2014.
    • Iraqi federal police officers patrol in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib suburb, June 28, 2014.
    • Mourners carry the coffin of a Shi'ite volunteer who joined the Iraqi army and was killed during clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Najaf, Iraq, June 28, 2014.
    • People inspect buildings damaged by an Iraqi government airstrike in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, June 28, 2014.
    • Smoke is seen after airstrikes by the Iraq military in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, June 28, 2014.
    • Kurdish security forces fire a multiple rocket launcher during clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Jalawla, Diyala province, Iraq, June 29, 2014.
    • Iraqi security forces patrol after clashes with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Dalli Abbas in Diyala province, Iraq, June 28, 2014.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Wazuppp from: US
    June 29, 2014 7:47 PM
    i bet you the Obama administration is already looking to surrender the American forces to ISIL...

    by: Dave Roland
    June 29, 2014 7:30 PM
    Sounds like political baloney when Maliki and co., attempt to blame their military failure on the lack of F-16's. To fight ISIL, they don't need F-16's, more like A-10's. The Russian planes that they've just bought are A-10 equivalents, more or less, ground attack aircraft.

    F-16's are air-dominance fighters.

    Dave
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 01, 2014 12:42 PM
    Hey Dave, Common sense says, that refurbished old WW1 warplanes, are better than the promised undelivered US F-16's bought by Iraq in 2012, that never ever got delivered, and the US "promises" of (2) F-16's to be delivered by November are worthless in the battles the Iraq army is fighting now, aren't they?.... and the promised training of Iraqi pilots to fly the F-16's will take more months?

    Common sense says; that the US could train the Iraqi pilots that will fly the F-16's in the US now, like they do to all the other countries pilots, they sell their fighter planes too, couldn't they?....... US politics, and US political interference in Iraq, is holding up the delivery of the US F-16's, isn't it?

    PS; Karzai and the Afghan air force has never received, (the US promised over (5) years ago), the old outdated refurbished fighter planes, and old outdated refurbished Russian helicopter gunships used in the Russian Afghan war, and that's why Karzai ranted about the US was working with the Taliban..... (US promises?)

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 29, 2014 12:13 PM
    MY OPINION -- If only the US and NATO countries hadn't interfered in the politics of the Islamic countries of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria? -- And bringing nothing but violence, killings, destruction and wars, leaving millions of innocent people displaced and homeless, and hundreds of thousands of innocent people injured and wounded, and the innocent peoples homes, towns, cities and countries destroyed, and the killings of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in their invasions, and the wars they started with their political interference, that continue on, to this day....

    AND NOW?.... The US and NATO countries are again interfering in the political process in Iraq, saying Maliki must go? --- (Who in their right mind), would listen to the US and NATO countries advice, that armed the Iraq enemies, and caused all the violence, killings, destruction and wars, that have been brought on the Islamic countries, by them?... WHO?
    In Response

    by: Dave Roland
    July 01, 2014 4:43 PM
    Hi meanbill. We've certainly interfered in the politics of many other countries, including those with predominantly Muslim populations. But when I assess the state of the world and the countries that make it up, I am led to this conclusion.

    Despite it's gigantic and prominent failings, the USA is still the world leader in allowing freedom of speech and worship. We are still the world's best hope when it comes to directing and guiding other countries in the best direction.

    We have many faults, but we still provide the best environment that allows it's citizens to pursue peace and happiness. It's easy to miss this fact, but we need to remind ourselves of it more often than we do.

    Dave
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    July 01, 2014 9:52 AM
    Hey 1worldnow, "all rebuttals are welcomed"... but for your information, My father and brothers and I, all served in the US army infantry in war and peace, and we (if my dad was still alive), have all "earned" the right to speak are minds, on anything and everything American.... sometimes anti-war protesters greeted my brothers and I.....

    MY OPINIONS? -- are the my opinions that contradicts the propaganda the US continually gives, to explain with excuses the violence, killings, and destruction and wars that they physically start, or their political interference causes, (that my father, brothers and I, all participated in), and that's why I speak up.... It's the US and NATO countries interference in the politics of other countries, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and now in Ukraine, bringing violence, killings, and destruction and wars, not caused by any other countries, isn't it?.... and it continues on to this day. doesn't it?
    In Response

    by: 1worldnow from: Earth
    July 01, 2014 7:14 AM
    IN MY OPINION -- Go live in any Muslim country of your choosing, I will pay all costs. After all, these radicals are killing, destroying, millions of innocent lives, don't forget raping kids, even without interference from other nations like the mean and evil USA.

    AND NOW?... Meanbill will be quoting scriptures from the Koran hoping the USA will come and stop these peaceful, non-violent radicals to stop raping him!!!!!
    First-class ticket, one-way of course. You don't need furniture when you get there, Meanbill, they have places they would like for you to 'sit' on. Take care, enjoy your flight.

    For everyone that is reading this guy's anti-American rants, beware, he is not an American and probably have never been to America. Check out all his posts. Even if the article has absolutely nothing to do with the US, he will still find a way to inject anti-Americanisms into his garbage filled rant!

    by: Stephen Real
    June 29, 2014 11:59 AM
    Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani is a good guy but how is his July 1 deadline gonna solve any of these deeply divisional issues again? That's a total farce for our Sunni friends in Anbar. The Sunnis' want their own space and we are gonna help them get what they want. We will empower their dreams and not our collective delusions.

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