Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric urges more professionalism in fight against ISIS

Reuters reports: Iraq’s most important Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on Friday for greater professionalism and planning by government forces and allied militias in fighting Islamic State insurgents.

Sistani, who speaks for millions of Iraqis and has a worldwide following, also urged greater participation of Sunni residents in Islamic State-controlled areas of Salahuddin and Anbar provinces in the fight.

In Salahuddin, Iraqi security forces and mainly Shi’ite militia are fighting to dislodge the insurgents from Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, which they overran last summer.

Some local Sunni tribes are supporting the efforts to retake Tikrit, where government and allied forces have not made any advances since last Friday. [Continue reading…]

Nancy A. Youssef adds: Iraqi politicians and military commanders have said repeatedly the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s grip on the city of Tikrit was about to end in the face of an overwhelming Iraqi military and militia offensive.

Just last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi reportedly declared that victory was near and “achieved totally by Iraqi hands.” And in an interview with ABC’s This Week that aired March 8, the prime minister said the forces’ advances were “ahead of planning.”

But two Pentagon officials told The Daily Beast on Thursday that the fall of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s hometown was at least two weeks away, as the campaign now is “stalled.” As Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Thursday, the Iraqi forces have not yet reached the center of the city. [Continue reading…]

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