Iraq’s Interior Minister says military operations to recapture the Islamic State-held city of Tikrit have temporarily paused to allow civilians left in Saddam Hussein’s hometown to leave.
Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban says the offensive, which began early this month, has achieved 90 percent of its objectives and has squeezed the militants into a small part of the city center. He says Islamic State extremists have booby-trapped buildings in central Tikrit and that Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite militias and Iranian advisers, slowed their push to reduce their own causalities, protect the infrastructure and allow residents to leave.
The minister spoke on Monday from the nearby city of Samarra. He did not give a timeframe for the resumption of operations, saying that is being “left to the field commanders.” Earlier, Iraqi forces need support from coalition air strikes in Tikrit, where die-hard jihadists are defending their last redoubt with trenches, sandbags and roadside bombs, a top officer said on Sunday.
Two weeks into Baghdad’s biggest operation yet against the Islamic State (IS) group, Iraqi forces have a complete stranglehold on Tikrit but have yet to launch a final assault.
Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi said he had asked the defence ministry to request coalition involvement, but “no air support” from foreign allies had yet been provided in Tikrit. That assertion is supported by daily statements from the coalition that have not mentioned strikes in the area.
Asked if US-led coalition air strikes would help, Saadi said: “Of course… the Americans have advanced equipment, they have AWACS (surveillance) aircraft.”
“They are able to locate the targets exactly” and carry out accurate strikes, he told AFP in an interview at Tikrit University on the northern edge of the city.