BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces pressed a counter-attack on Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit yesterday as jihadists who led a blistering Sunni militant offensive that captured swathes of territory declared a “caliphate”.
Russia meanwhile delivered warplanes to aid Baghdad in a crisis said to rival Iraq’s brutal sectarian war of 2006-2007, with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in a matter of weeks.
Alarmed world leaders have urged a speeding up of government formation following April elections, warning the conflict driven by sectarian divides cannot be resolved militarily.
And while beleaguered Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has conceded a political solution is necessary to end the crisis, his security spokesman has for days touted the Tikrit operation, which could be crucial not only tactically, but also for morale in the security forces.
“The security forces are advancing from different areas” around Tikrit, Lieutenant General Qassem Atta told reporters. “There are ongoing clashes.”
Atta said troops had detonated bombs planted along routes into the city, which militants took more than two weeks ago.
Yesterday, ISIL’s spokesmen took things a step further, declaring a “caliphate” in an audio recording that named the group’s leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi as “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere”. Though the move may not have a significant impact on the ground, it marks an indicator of the group’s confidence after it led an onslaught that overran parts of five Iraqi provinces, displacing hundreds of thousands.
It comes as Iraq took delivery of the first batch of Sukhoi warplanes from Russia, with the newly-purchased Su-25s expected to be pressed into service as soon as possible.
Witnesses reported waves of government air strikes in various areas of central Tikrit and Saddam’s palace compound in
the city. AFP