Despite backing from helicopters and artillery and mortar fire, senior officers at the Iraqi Forces Operations Room told Reuters the advance towards the city, located in Iraq’s Salah El-Din province 80 miles (130km) north of Baghdad, stalled in the face of mines and sniper fire on Tuesday afternoon. Residents said ISIS insurgents were still in control and were conducting patrols in the city.
Tuesday’s push marked the Iraqi military’s third attempt to recapture the city, famed as the birthplace of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, after it fell to ISIS and its allies in June.
The governor of Salah El-Din province, Ahmed Al-Juburi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of militia units composed of former Tikrit residents had been formed in anticipation of the city being recaptured.
He said: “Four regiments have been formed from residents of Tikrit, most of them members of the local police who left after ISIS entered the city.”
Juburi said around 400 volunteers were brought from Erbil, where they had taken refuge, as well as others, most of whom were members of the Al-Jubur tribe.
He added: “As soon as we announced the need for volunteers, around 4,000 came forward; they will be the backbone of the force which will enter the city soon.”
Juburi said that despite their failure to enter the city, Iraqi forces were gradually surrounding key facilities, including “the police academy, the university and Speicher [Air Force] base.”
The governor said that once the areas around Tikrit had been secured, the volunteer militia would enter the city, in order to “avert any fears of the army spreading among the residents.”
Elsewhere Iraqi forces were reported to have intensified their bombardment of ISIS-held areas around the cities of Fallujah and Haditha in the province of Anbar. Security force spokesmen said around 15 insurgents were killed by air strikes on the city of Haditha on Tuesday alone.
Sheikh Abdullah Al-Hadithi, a prominent tribal figure in Haditha, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the strikes had been carried out by Iraqi forces without US assistance.
He said: “The bombardment was carried out by the Iraqi air force and it has been going on for some time now, especially because ISIS are in control of the district of Barawnah which is on the others side of the River Tigris to Haditha.”