Thousands of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias and Iraqi security forces are advancing toward Tikrit against Islamic State militants who now dominate most of northern Iraq.
This week’s multi-pronged attack is the biggest coordinated assault on the city, the hometown of executed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, since the radical Sunni fighters seized it in June.
It is also the clearest example of how Tehran, rather than Washington, is now playing a more important role on the battlefield in a war that sees both Iran and the United States supporting the same side against a common foe, Reuters reported.
Unlike an unsuccessful Tikrit offensive in July, this campaign appears to follow the methodical military strategy honed by Iranian advisers in neighboring Syria, which helped President Bashar al-Assad regain some lost territory, according to the news agency.
Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, along with two Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary leaders, oversees the eastern part of the Tikrit campaign.
Soleimani, a major general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is the commander of Tehran’s elite Quds force, which Washington considers a banned terrorist organization responsible for training and arming Shi’ite militants across the Middle East.
At least 20,000 fighters are involved in the Iraqi advance, mostly from Shi’ite militias known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) units.
They are supported from the air by Iraqi jets, although not directly by a US-led coalition which has targeted Islamic State positions elsewhere in Iraq and Syria.
Progress in the first three days of battle has been steady, often delayed by snipers and bombs on the road to Tikrit, the report said.
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