Iraqi forces retake town near Tikrit
Mar 11, 2015
The Iraqi forces entered Al-Alam early in the morning and hours later gained full control of the town adjacent to Tikrit, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.The battle for Saddam Hussein’s hometown is a key test for the Iraqi forces as they struggle to win back some of the Islamic State group’s biggest strongholds in Iraq. Ahmed Al-Karim, the Salahuddin provincial council chief, said that progress had been slow due to roadside bombs and sniper attacks. Tikrit, Salahuddin’s provincial capital that lies about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, fell to the IS group last summer, along with Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland. US-led coalition forces have said they are not providing aerial support for this particular mission because the Iraqis have not requested it. Before Al-Alam, the offensive succeeded in clawing back a few villages and towns, most notably Dawr, south of Tikrit. Among those directing operations is Iranian Gen. Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. US military officials have said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul will likely begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. But the Americans have cautioned that if the Iraqis are not ready, the offensive could be delayed. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Join Chiefs of Staff, said while on a visit to the region on Monday that he is “a bit concerned” about whether the international coalition fighting the Islamic State is sustainable for the longer-term challenge of confronting extremists elsewhere.  Dempsey said that in military terms the campaign against IS is “on path.” But he put equal emphasis on the importance of sustaining the coalition for the longer term. — AP