The Iraqi military, fleeing major cities in the nation last week under assault by the terrorist jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has begun to attempt a recovery of the city of Tikrit, one of the first large cities to fall under ISIS rule.
The Agence France-Presse reports that the Iraqi military is fighting back in Tikrit, launching an aerial assault and fighting for control of Tikrit university. Forces are both using helicopters to surround the campus and to place soldiers on the ground to fight, with military and unofficial militia skirmishes reported. An unnamed senior military spokesman told AFP that the Iraqi military is planning a full assault to retake the city.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported more details of the assault, noting the ISIS jihadists were not initially at the university campus and had to call for reinforcements from neighboring areas. Xinhua mentions a number of civilian casualties: “a woman was killed and two others were wounded by the bombardment on the district, while two of the university teachers were wounded by a mortar round which landed on their homes in the residential area inside the university compound.”
Tikrit, hometown of Saddam Hussein, is strategically very important to ISIS and has become a hotbed of human rights abuses in the region. According to a report released Friday by Human Rights Watch, ISIS has established a mass grave in Tikrit for the hundreds it has slaughtered since taking over the city. The human rights group has accused ISIS of war crimes in the city, most notably of mass executions of Iraqi soldiers and civilians believed to be Shi’ite Muslims.
ISIS had made significant gains in Iraq in the past two weeks, elevating concern among many regional neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, and prompting the participation of the Iranian and Syrian armies in fighting ISIS within the borders of Iraq.
The United States has also become, once again, a military presence in the fight to control Baghdad. CNN reported Friday that armed American drones have reached Baghdad and are equipped to attack and kill ISIS jihadists should they get any closer to the capital. While the United States had previously sent surveillance drones to keep watch over the jihadists and their movement in the country, this is the first report confirming a presence of armed attack drones in the country. The United States has also stationed 180 servicemen in the area to protect Baghdad and will be sending more advisory forces in the future.