The New York Times reports: Iraqi government forces and allied militias continued on Friday to battle Islamic State militants who defended their remaining positions in the city of Tikrit with snipers and roadside bombs.
As officials called for unity against the militant group, which swept into much of Iraq’s north and west last year, and declared that the fight was an Iraqi national objective, rather than a Shiite or Iranian one, new factions showed their readiness to join the conflict, albeit in relatively small numbers.
That signaled not only a broadening of the Iraqi fight against the Islamic State, but also probably an expansion of the maneuvering by rival groups to share a measure of credit for an expected victory and to position themselves to take part in the even more crucial battle farther north for Mosul, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State.
Around 700 fighters loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr arrived to take part in the operation south of Tikrit, joining a force of more than 30,000 pro-government fighters, two-thirds of them members of a mainly Shiite militia known as popular mobilization forces.
And in the southern city of Basra on Thursday, a new Sunni militia organized by the religious establishment declared it was joining the popular mobilization effort, officials said.
Kurdish pesh merga and Sunni tribal fighters were continuing on Friday to advance on Islamic State territory from the northern city of Kirkuk, military officials said, on a front that would also be important in the battle for Mosul.
Mr. Sadr’s loyalists had sat out recent battles after he said he was “freezing” their participation, in part because of allegations of atrocities committed by Shiite militias in Diyala and Anbar Provinces after driving out Islamic State militants.
But last week, the cleric called on his militias, known as the Peace Brigades, to prepare to mobilize for possible participation in a campaign to take back Mosul. He declared that they had a better reputation than other militias and that their participation would tone down the sectarian flavor of the fight. [Continue reading…]