Final battle for Tikrit: ‘We won’t let the Americans take the glory’
时间：2019-07-29 责任编辑：桓凝泪 来源：合乐888手机网页版 点击：252 次
Near ground zero of the fight for , almost nothing is moving. The insurgents who have made this place one of the most dangerous on Earth have bunkered down in battered homes, and the militiamen who are fighting them are preparing for what they believe will be a final battle in coming days.
Roads leading to the frontline are empty and the communities that line them are in ruins. Graffiti left by militants of the has been overlaid by the symbols of Shia fighters now at the vanguard of the conflict, their vivid green and yellow banners proudly displaying their provenance. Iraqi flags also fly here, but in fewer numbers.
A drone circled overhead on Thursday, hours after the US air force had joined the fray for the first time since the battle for Saddam Hussein’s birthplace started this month. “It was like this yesterday,” said a Sunni tribesman in the nearby town of Alam. “Then the airplanes came at night.”
Locals say jets bombed a dense area of Tikrit thought to be the last redoubt of Isis for most of Wednesday evening, stopping just before dawn. The attacks were the first launched on the city by the US-led coalition since the battle began and have caused an uncomfortable reckoning for the militia leaders on the ground who have constantly disavowed US support, but nonetheless appear to benefit from it.
“We did not ask for them and we have no direct contact with the Americans,” , the overall leader of the Shia groups, inside a base in the shrine city of Samarra, 30 miles south of Tikrit. “From what I understand, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi made the request. However, we respect his decision.”
Other members of the Popular Mobilisation Front, a conglomerate of Iranian-backed Shia fighters – all of whom played lead roles during Iraq’s civil war – were far less circumspect. Asa’ib ahl al-Haq, one of the most powerful members of the umbrella group, hinted that it might stand its members down in protest at the de facto alliance with a sworn foe.
“We announced that we will suspend our operations as we won’t accept the Iraqi government giving the victory to the Americans on a golden plate,” said a spokesman, Naim al-Obaidi. “There is no need for the American air strikes now as we have already liberated 90% of Tikrit. We won’t let the Americans take the glory for the work they are doing for liberating 10%.”
Other groups suggested they may follow suit. However, senior militia leaders were preparing for a second night of strikes that could do what a month of street battles has failed to do: dislodge up to 750 heavily armed Isis diehards from a dense urban landscape that has taken a savage toll on Shia fighters and has been a main reason for the battle having slowed.
Amiri himself journeyed to Tikrit to survey the battlefield on Thursday. Earlier he said the future of the militants would soon become clear. “We will know in the next few days just how long this battle will last. We will soon learn what their intentions are,” he added of the estimated 500-750 Isis fighters defending the city. “At first I thought they might flee like the others, but it seems that those who have remained want to fight till the death. They did the same in Kobani.”
The Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani finally fell to the YPG militia group in January after a four-month struggle during which the US and allied Arab air forces launched almost 700 air strikes against Isis.
For decades a bastion of Iraq’s old guard, Tikrit in recent months has been one of the main focal points for Isis and the remnants of the now disbanded Ba’ath party through which Saddam projected his power. The fight for the city has become one of the most important battles in Iraq’s nine-month war against Isis, during which irregular forces – backed and directed by Iran – have often take primacy over the national army.
Shia forces who escorted the Guardian to Tikrit said they had played a dominant role in capturing the towns on the east bank of the Tigris river that runs through the city. Their widespread presence was starkly at odds with the description of the US Central Command leader, Gen Lloyd Austin, who hours after the air strikes told the Senate armed services committee: “Currently there are no Shia militia and, as reported by the Iraqis today, no PMF in that area as well.”
The Popular Mobilisation Forces remained in firm control of the area as some locals started to trickle back after months spent as internal refugees. “We went to Kirkuk,” said one family who returned on Thursday. “We are pleased to be home. The months here [under Isis] were the worst of our lives.”
A second returnee, Sajda Jabour, standing near a roadside registration desk with her four children, said: “Only now do I start to feel as though we have a life to return to. Our house has been looted, but what can we do? At least it’s still standing.”
The family were among the lucky ones. As many as half of all homes in Alam and Dour, on the road to Tikrit, have been damaged or destroyed, mostly by retreating Isis forces who wreaked vengeance through a scorched earth policy. Shia fighters have been responsible for some looting; uniformed militiamen were openly raiding shopfronts on Thursday.
Ameri said his forces, together with the Iraqi army, had ousted Isis from 2,700 sq miles of central Iraq in recent months, with their offensive focused along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Roads and communities nearby had been strategic routes for Isis as it crept towards Baghdad last summer.
Along the route the competing narratives of both groups remained etched into the landmarks still standing. On one large water tower in the town of Dour, the words “Caliphate of the Islamic State” had been replaced by Shia fighters with an ode to their imam. Their message said: “Caliphate of Imam Ali, the guide of the prophecy.”