Iraqi Government commandos flown into Tikrit this week are fighting to regain control of the city, seized earlier this month by ISIS separatists.The helicopter-borne assault used a sports stadium at Tikrit’s university as a staging post. At least three helicopters dropped troops at the stadium, according to a professor at the university, Ahmed al-Jubbour, said. But the attack appears to have started badly: “One of the helicopters crashed. Another left after dropping off troops and a third remained on the ground,” Jubbour said.
Baghdad has not commented on specific gains in Tikrit, but al Jazeera news agency reported Tikrit citizens had complained that the Government troops had fired indiscriminately rather than target specific rebel strongholds.
The attack came as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed an attack on ISIS positions inside Iraq by Syrian fighter jets. Mr Maliki acknowledged the attacks were carried out near the town of al-Qaim, close to the Iraqi-Syria border, which had been lost to the ISIS advance last week. Mr Maliki told a BBC reporter that while his army would limit its operations to Iraqi territory, the Syrian attack on ISIS left both countries winners.
He told the BBC’s Arabic service, “There was no coordination involved, but we welcome this action. We welcome any Syrian strike against Isis because this group targets both Iraq and Syria … But we didn’t make any request from Syria. They carry out their strikes and we carry out ours. The final winners are our two countries.”
Iraq’s Vice-President Khader al Khuzaei has called for Parliament to meet next week to create a new government as Baghdad becomes increasingly isolated by rebel advances. Mr has vowed to press ahead with forming a new Government but is adamant he will not include Sunni representatives, a move urged on him by the US and other allies to undermine the extremist ISIS grip on the Sunni-dominated north of the country.
US President Barack Obama has meanwhile asked Congress for $500 million to help train and equip moderate factions opposing the Syrian government. At present, the well-funded and well-equipped ISIS forces are the dominant element in the struggle to remove President Assad’s discredited Syrian government fighting in troops fighting in Syria. The Sunni-based ISIS group is campaigning for a new independent Sunni state straddling the border of Syria and Iraq.
A White House spokesman said the fund was intended to “ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition … to help defend the Syrian people, stabilise areas under opposition control … counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement”. – Compiled from internet and agency sources by Paige Pollard.
Top screengrab of Iraqi commandos training from an Al Jazeera news bulletin.
To learn more about what is behind the rebellion in Iraq, see
Iraq and ISIS – what’s it all about?
– a Newsroom news backgrounder.