Der Spiegel reports: The trip from Baghdad to Tikrit remains extremely dangerous. There may be bombs planted along the road and snipers occasionally lurk nearby. As such, nobody knows for sure which car Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban is traveling. His convoy, protected by heavily armed soldiers, is heading north, driving by walls and schools where the black flag of Islamic State (IS) is still flying. And it passes through empty villages and past trenches that reflect the ongoing fighting.
The minister is headed for the front-line city of Tikrit, 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Baghdad, from which IS has been forced to retreat in recent days. Ghabban, 53, is a wiry man in a simple police uniform. He was jailed at the young age of 18 during the Saddam Hussein regime and later joined the Iran-founded Shiite Badr Party. Tikrit is a place of some significance for him. This is where the hated dictator was born and it is not far from where he is buried.
The Tikrit water tower can be seen from afar: It too has been painted black and bears the white IS script. Tikrit used to have 260,000 inhabitants, but now it is a ghost town. Burnt-out vehicles dot the roadside, there is no electricity and the cell phone towers have been destroyed. But the Iraqi flag is once again flying over Alam Square. Behind it, on the main street, stand the men responsible for this victory: policemen, soldiers and, above all, Shiite militia members.
They have lined up hundreds of cartridges of mortar shells they say IS fighters fired during the battle for the city. An old police commander steps up to the interior minister and reports that his unit lost 60 troops during the fighting. But, he adds, the streets of Tikrit’s Qadisiya district are littered with the corpses of IS fighters. [Continue reading…]