The Washington Post reports: Iraqi troops clashed with Islamic State militants in the northern city of Tikrit on Friday, as pro-government forces tightened their grip on the extremist stronghold, officials said. But tensions flared between security forces and locals in the area, adding to fears of intensified strains in this deeply polarized country.
Pro-government troops — the bulk of whom are Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitaries — took over most of Tikrit this week following a mammoth offensive, officials said. The assault marked the first major push by largely Shiite forces into Iraq’s Sunni heartland, where the jihadists had seized large areas. The fall of Tikrit is a substantial blow to the extremists, whose raison d’etre is capturing land to build an Islamic caliphate.
Officials said Friday that the battle in Tikrit would likely extend into next week, as security forces searched for militants and dismantled improvised explosives planted by the jihadists. Security officials had set no time frame for the return of civilians to Tikrit or surrounding areas, even where Shiite militias were firmly in control, officials said. Already there were reports of arbitrary arrests of residents who had not fled the fighting. [Continue reading…]