HTS 2041: The Modern Middle East

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Battle for Tikrit

Iraqi military forces recently entered into a battle with ISIL on its own turf this past Tuesday. ISIL is currently in control of the city of Tikrit as well as the surrounding villages. This Iraqi offensive is the first of many to fight ISIL and to ultimately regain control of Mosul, which is Iraq’s second largest city and is currently controlled by ISIL forces. Control of Tikrit is crucial for the Iraqi military to advance to Mosul because Tikrit lies on a major highway that leads from Baghdad to Mosul, thus, control of Tikrit is the first step to gaining access to Mosul and taking away an ISIL stronghold.

According to Iraq’s defense ministry, Iraqi forces have already gained control of areas surrounding the city of Tikrit that are along the Tigris River. Some Iraqi government troops are already stationed in some of the main streets of Tikrit along with some Shia volunteers from Popular Mobilisation Forces. These Shia volunteers are helping with the Iraqi government’s push to rid ISIL from Iraq.


ISIL Fighters are putting up a stiff fight. ISIL has reportedly blown up a bridge that leads to Tikrit making the Iraqi military’s advance a little more difficult. Several roads going into the city are also believed to be rigged with explosives, which further slows down the Iraqi advance. The Iraqi military, however, is slowly progressing towards the center of the city. According to the Iraqi defense ministry, Iraqi forces have destroyed 20 heavy machine guns and 20 vehicles during its advance towards Tikrit. The Iraqis have also dismantled approximately 382 improvised explosive devices along its way into the city. As of now, the Iraqi government claims to have killed 350 suspected ISIL fighters within a four day period.

In the last couple of days, the Iraqi military along with the Shia militia have captured a few towns surrounding Tikrit including al-Alam and al-Dour. The military has also gained control over the oil fields in al-Ojail. The Iraqi military is set up to capture a few more small villages surrounding Tikrit within the next few days. The Iraqi government is looking at the battle for Tikrit to gauge how bad future conflicts between the Iraqi military and ISIL could end up. If ISIL puts up a huge fight at Tikrit, the Iraqi government can expect a very bloody fight all the way up to Mosul. The hope of the Iraqi government is that the capture of Tikrit will encourage Sunni’s across the country to rise up against ISIL and take back their villages.

There are some inherent sectarian issues that arise with this Iraqi military offensive towards Tikrit. Tikrit is a Sunni stronghold, and the Iraqi government is working with Shia militias to try and fight ISIL. Therefore there is Shia militia that are killing Sunni’s in Tikrit. Shia militia groups, including the League of the Righteous (a Shia group), have reportedly ransacked and burned the houses of Sunni residents in the city of Tikrit. This is causing great tension between the Sunni’s and the Shia’s. The Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement regarding these recent attacks by the Shia groups. His statement encourages the Iraqi government to investigate and punish any Shia group that is using excessive violence against any Sunni resident of Tikrit. There is some confusion as to who to blame for the Shia militia attacks on the Sunni’s. The Leader of the League of the Righteous claims that he was operating under orders given by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who is the commander of the elite Quds Brigade. General Soleimani has been seen directing operations on the eastern flank of Tikrit.

I think this offensive displayed by the Iraqi government is a huge step in the right direction. It shows that the government recognizes the problem and is willing to do what it takes to gain control of its cities again. The Iraqi government is surely expecting a bloody war with ISIL, but it is a risk they are willing to take to win back their homeland. The biggest issue I see is the sectarian conflicts that may arise from this fight against ISIL. With Shia militia fighting in Sunni cities, it could cause for more incidents like what was seen with the League of the Righteous. This could provoke a civil war type of conflict in Iraq. The last thing Iraq needs is a Sunni population fighting a Shia population while both sides fight with ISIL.

Chris O’Reilly





  1. jyount6 says:

    This certainly is an interesting development. The disunity of Muslims and Arabs alike could be just the vacuum that ISIL needs to thrive and prosper in the area. If the Sunnis and Shias can’t be civil towards one another for the time being then defeating the terrorist group may prove impossible. The US has been known to offer weapons and supplies in lieu of troops in times of need though, so if the US has no direct involvement at this point we can at least get involved in aiding the Iraqi military. The only downside is that if instability continues in the region we could have another case of our own weapons falling into the hands of those working against US interests as was the case in Afghanistan.

  2. nrassam3 says:

    This war against ISIS is changing the demographics of the whole country. Shia are retaliating for 3 decades of oppression by the dictator Saddam, and now they are at Tikrit the hometown of Saddam. The current events in Tikrit send a significant message to the Iraqi Sunni. The future holds all, and it will be interesting to see if the Iraqi forces and the Shia forces surrender the city to it’s people after the war against ISIS is over, or would they hold it forever.

  3. zhu64 says:

    Again and again religion is causing violence and divide between the people. Religion is the main factor that is keeping the shia and sunni muslims from working together to get rid of the disease that is poisoning their land. For over a thousands years dispute over their religions has caused untold violence between the two groups and now even under the threat of complete destruction they still cannot work together.

  4. trevormcelhenny says:

    It will certainly be interesting to see how this one plays out, and to see how well ISIL can hold its own against a trained and well armed ground assault. Hopefully, the sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni will be minimal, and both groups can just focus on the problem at hand….but I’m not holding my breath.

  5. khospedales3 says:

    I suppose things aren’t as simple as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s disappointing to see that conflict between religious sects still holds more weight in the hearts of many than the conflict with ISIS.

    It’s amazing how a simple disagreement on who the successor to the prophet Muhammad should be has led to such persistent civil unrest, especially when the leader of the people or the caliphate isn’t even the key component of what Islam truly is.

  6. ssweeny3 says:

    This is an enormous step in the right direction. Iraq actively defending itself against this threat of ISIS will play a huge roll in the US involvement against ISIS. Now, we are not the main effort against a force in a Middle Eastern country, simply the supporting effort for a country defending itself. We can support Iraq through a myriad of options, namely airstrikes and training. There are two concerns though. First, we do not want Iraq to become another Afghanistan where we help them defend their country then leave with nothing. Second, we also need Syria to help. If Syria does nothing, ISIS will get kicked out of Iraq and occupy Syria. Then we will not have to worry about ISIS anymore, just ISS.

  7. missypittard says:

    There is no doubt that this is a debut of the accountability of the Iraqi government. It would be a shame after the United States sacrificed so much for their establishment to not see something of this kind take place. However, the rift between the Sunni and Shia is too strong for this to be any sort of clean ousting of terrorism. While the idea is there, this will perpetuate greater turmoil within the nation, as it facilitates further violence between the different religious factions. Even if they succeed in removing ISIL from Tikrit, there will be further consequences as a result of their methods. Whether these consequences are worth it will be decided as the fighting plays out.

  8. corypope6 says:

    The question, as always, remains: What is the United States going to do about this recent development? Is it worth it to send troop in and uproot ISIL, or is it yet another situation that does not warrant United States intervention. I think that the United States should intervene, if not militarily, at least politically. We have spent too much time in this region and lost too many lives to give up on the area now. Maybe we should offer aid to the militants and the Iraqi government to fight this threat.

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