Weeks of combat in Iraq show Shiite militias have few offensive capabilities

McClatchy reports: The sectarian Shiite militias that the government in Baghdad has dispatched to fill the void created by the collapse of the Iraqi army are proving ill-equipped for offensive operations intended to reverse gains by the radical Islamic State, Iraqi soldiers and military experts studying the current military situation have concluded.

The inadequacy of the militias to turn the tide was demonstrated again on Wednesday six miles south of Tikrit, the central Iraqi city that Islamic State fighters seized June 11 and that Iraqi forces and Shiite fighters have been trying to reclaim for more than two weeks.

Local residents and Iraqi media reported that the Iraqi military backed by militias attempted to push through the town of Awja toward Tikrit but were beaten back by heavy machine-gun and mortar fire from Islamic State positions.

“It was a big battle and the Iraqi army and the Iranian militias have gone,” said one local resident, whose reference to the Shiite militias as Iranians is common, if inaccurate, in heavily Sunni regions of Iraq. “They withdrew to a base south of Awja.” The resident declined to be identified for security reasons.

A Twitter account associated with the Islamic State posted photographs of what it said was the aftermath of the fighting, including images of burning armored vehicles and at least one destroyed pickup truck emblazoned with the logo of SWAT, a highly trained Iraqi army special forces unit. The photographs were consistent with descriptions of the fighting, the units present and the location of the battle, though their authenticity could not be confirmed.

The apparent defeat underscored a growing sense that the Iraqi security forces have misplaced their hopes that the Shiite militias would prove decisive in the fight against the Islamic State. While the militias are given credit for stopping the Islamic State’s advance on cities such as Samarra, home of a major Shiite religious shrine, and Baghdad, they’ve proved ineffective in retaking ground. Their casualties apparently have been high. [Continue reading…]

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