The Delicate Success of Tikrit

By Ismael Alsodani

Ed. Graham Plaster

It has been one month since the commencement of the operation to liberate the Salahddin province from ISIS, and it has concluded with the raising of an Iraqi flag over downtown Tikrit.  This delicate success has been won despite an ongoing controversy. The controversy has stemmed from the involvement of mainly Shia mobilization forces (Hashed Elshaabi) and the Iranian revolutionary guard advisors led by the controversial Gen Qasim Sulaiman.  Regionally and internationally, there has been fear that the Shia militia would have cause to retaliate in response to the June 2014 ISIS’ slaughter of 1,700 young Shia soldiers.

The Tikrit campaign began well, achieving its aims according to strategic timelines. It was a complex operation involving multiple Iraqi security partners from different sectors, coordinating in order to keep ISIS under pressure, to deny their ability to maneuver, and prevent the reinforcement of their forces in Tikrit.  Over the course of the ten day operation, Iraqi forces liberated tens of thousands of square meters that encircle Tikrit. The effort effectively isolated ISIS so that they would be unable to hold the ground.  However, progress in the operation began to slow as Iraqi forces discovered a high number of booby traps planted throughout the city streets as well as ISIS snipers perched on rooftops. Additionally, there were political disputes between the Iraqi government and the international coalition regarding the Iranians advisors and the participation of the Shia militia’s role in the advanced stages of the operation.  Questions were raised about which forces would be responsible for providing security inside the city.

In the last week of March, the Iraqi Prime Minister announced that the Tikrit operation would resume, but this time with coalition air support and the withdrawing of the Iranian advisors and militias. On April 2, 2015 Iraqi forces entered downtown Tikrit and succeeded in erecting an Iraqi flag atop the provincial government building. The next phase of the liberation will be more critical than the liberation itself.  Iraqi forces and their partners will be under scrutiny for any possible violations of the Prime Ministers terms.

Unfortunately, leading up to and during ISIS’ occupancy of Tikrit, some properties were vandalized by locals whose family members had been killed by ISIS or perhaps irresponsible elements from the popular mobilization. Iraq’s government will have to hold them accountable under the Iraqi judiciary system while abiding to human rights standards.

Without going into too much detail here, I will say that this operation has been one of the most unique models of counterterrorism in the world.  It was efficient, utilizing the element of surprise from all directions, and effective in leveraging heavy fire support.  Iraqi forces were able to undermine ISIS capabilities, isolate their forces and use the appropriate weapons to mitigate heavy casualties. Additionally, the operation has damaged ISIS’ image that the organization has portrayed itself undefeatable. This is the first time that ISIS has been defeated so decisively  since they seized a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria.  This victory will sustain Iraq’s optimism to continue liberation operations in the the remaining territories.

Iraq needs to continue consultation with international partners in order to degrade ISIS, which serves the interests of all partners. Internal disputes could threaten the unity of the coalition and degrade Iraq’s ability to counter the ISIS threat. Political and diplomatic planning must be coordinated closely with military planning in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and impact.


About the Author

Ismael Alsodani retired from the Iraq Army as a Brigadier General.  He is the Former Iraqi Defense Attaché to Washington D.C.


About the Editor

Graham Plaster is the CEO of The Intelligence Community LLC, a former US Navy Foreign Area Officer, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Professional Journal, International Affairs.