Iraqi Forces Recapture Government HQ From ISIS in Tikrit

Tikrit Iraq ISIS Islamic State
A member of the Iraqi security forces carries his weapon as he watches smoke rise from a scene of clashes between the Iraqi army and Islamic State militants in Tikrit March 30, 2015. Reuters / Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi forces have recaptured the provincial government headquarters from ISIS in Tikrit as the offensive to retake the city accelerates, officials have revealed.

After U.S. air strikes, requested by Baghdad, pounded ISIS positions in the city, Shia and Sunni militiamen rejoined Iraqi forces to advance on the encircled city from all sides after boycotting the offensive in protest at Washington's involvement.

"Iraqi forces cleared the government complex in Tikrit," an Iraqi army major general said, speaking on condition of anonymity to AFP news agency. "The government buildings have been under our control since last night."

Regional and militia officials also confirmed to the agency that the Salah ad-Din provincial government headquarters were retaken. Salah ad-Din governor Raad al-Juburi said that the Iraqi flag was flying over the building while the spokesman for the Badr militia, Karim al-Nuri, revealed that fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMU), which consists mainly of Iranian-backed Shia militias, retook the compound alongside Iraqi police forces.

The capture of the compound represents a major success for the 30,000-strong Iraqi force and the biggest victory in the offensive launched on 2 March as it had almost ground to a halt due to the militia's boycott and ISIS booby traps within the city.

Sajad Jiyad, Iraq expert and research director at the independent consultancy Integrity, says that the capture of the government complex will make the operation against ISIS easier for the Iraqi forces.

"This is significant progress and confines the remaining Daesh [the Arabic term for ISIS] fighters to even smaller areas in the city centre and therefore making them easier to target," he notes.

Despite holding a numerical advantage over ISIS, the assault on the hometown of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has taken longer than expected and is now in its fourth week. Experts have said that the Iraqi army does not have the capacity to neutralise the "hundreds" of booby traps that ISIS have planted in the city while Iraq's defence minister, Khaled al-Obeidi, claimed that the operation was slowed to prevent Iraqi casualties.

The Sunni-majority city has been under the control of the terror group since their sweep across Iraq's northern regions last summer. It was the site of mass executions of Iraqi forces by ISIS militants at the time of its capture last June. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report claimed that approximately 770 captured soldiers were killed after the terror group took control of former U.S. military base in the city, Camp Speicher, in executions which HRW advisor Fred Abrahams described as "crimes against humanity".

Tikrit is situated on the Tigris river, approximately 95 miles (150 kilometres) north of the capital Baghdad, and would provide Iraqi forces a strategic launchpad from which to attack ISIS-held Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, further to the north. Last month, a U.S. Central Command (Centcom) official said that Iraqi forces were being trained in order to launch an advance on Mosul - which sits in close proximity to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region - as soon as April or May.