Gun and suicide bomb attacks kill 12 in Iraq’s Tikrit

Attack on city retaken from ISIL last year comes as Iraqi forces close in on Mosul, the extremists' last major stronghold in the country.
Members of the Popular Mobilisation militias supporting Iraqi government forces march on September 24, 2016 as part of a parade from Karbala to Najaf to review the military equipment to be used in the operation to retake Mosul from ISIL. Haidar Hamdani / AFP
Members of the Popular Mobilisation militias supporting Iraqi government forces march on September 24, 2016 as part of a parade from Karbala to Najaf to review the military equipment to be used in the operation to retake Mosul from ISIL. Haidar Hamdani / AFP

SAMARRA // Militants killed 12 people in a shooting and a suicide bombing opn Saturday in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, which was recaptured from ISIL last year.

It was not clear last night whether the renewed violence in Tikrit would delay plans by Iraqi forces to recapture Mosul. Western officials have indicated that the drive for Iraq’s second city will begin next month, although Baghdad has declined to give a specific date for the operation.

Tikrit was overrun by ISIL in June 2014, but the city was largely spared the violence that has plagued other parts of the country since its recapture.

In Saturday’s attack, militants shot dead four security personnel at a checkpoint on the west side of the city, then continued north and detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle at another checkpoint, killing eight more people.

The attacks also wounded a total of 23 people.

There was no claim of responsibility, but ISIL frequently carries out suicide attacks targeting civilians and security forces in Iraq.

The home town of toppled and executed dictator Saddam Hussein, Tikrit is 60 kilometres north of Baghdad and was the second city to fall to ISIL in 2014 as the terrorists swept through large areas north and west of the capital.

It was also the first city to be recaptured by Iraqi forces, which are now preparing for a push on Mosul, a city north of Tikrit that is the last one held by ISIL in the country.

The British defence secretary Michael Fallon said on Friday that an offensive to encircle Mosul should begin within weeks.

“Although Mosul is a large and complex city, it will fall and will fall soon. I expect the operation for its encirclement to begin in the next few weeks,” Mr Fallon said after returning from a three-day trip to Iraq.

He said Iraqi forces were moving into a tactical assembly area in preparation for the assault.

“We ought to be able to get Daesh out of Iraq over the next few months, the remaining months of this year and next year,” he said.

A senior British Royal Air Force officer said its warplanes stationed in Cyprus had been hitting ISIL targets last week in preparation for the offensive on Mosul by Iraqi forces.

“We’ll stand by them. We’ll support them. We will make it doable for them,” air commodore Sammy Sampson said.

The RAF has eight Tornado and six Typhoon aircraft carrying out missions from it Akrotiri base in Cyprus.

One Typhoon strike last week hit an ISIL training camp just inside Iraq’s border with Syria, killing about 40-50 fighters, air commodore Sampson said.

Top US military officers have also suggested that the final push for Mosul could begin next month, but there are still significant military, political and humanitarian obstacles between the launch of the operation and entering and retaking the city.

The drive will involve Iraqi soldiers and police, pro-government paramilitaries and Kurdish peshmerga fighters – forces that in some cases have not operated together before and do not have unified command structures.

The United Nations says that up to one million people may be displaced by the fighting.

Even if Mosul is retaken, the extremists will still have the ability to carry out attacks such as those in Tikrit on Saturday.

Analysts warned that ISIL was likely to resort to more such attacks in the face of the loss of its last urban bastion in Iraq.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 24, 2016 04:00 AM

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