Iraq seeks coalition air support to free IS-held city

A top Iraqi army officer said on Monday that Iraqi troops need US-led coalition air support to recapture the city of Tikrit, as a major offensive against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group stalled after two weeks.

IANS| Last Updated: Mar 16, 2015, 16:56 PM IST

Baghdad: A top Iraqi army officer said on Monday that Iraqi troops need US-led coalition air support to recapture the city of Tikrit, as a major offensive against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group stalled after two weeks.

"The Iraqi security forces need coalition assistance to complete the liberation of Tikrit as the IS militant group planted thousands of bombs to defend their last redoubt in Tikrit," Xinhua news agency quoted Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, head of the Operations Command of Salahudin province, as saying.

Al-Saadi, whose command is responsible for security in the province, said a request had been made to the defence ministry to demand coalition air support.

"The US-led coalition have advanced equipment to locate the targets accurately and have advanced technology and sophisticated weapons that can reduce by far the time and casualties of clearing the city," he said.

The campaign to recapture Tikrit has been stalled due to the presence of IS booby traps and the Iraqi security forces` intention to limit casualties.

"The reason behind the stalling of the operations to free Tikrit is that the leaders do not want their units to sustain heavy casualties, and they prefer to prolong the siege of the city to force the IS militants either to surrender or be killed," a federal police colonel said.

"Hundreds of improvised explosive devices had been planted at the entrances to the city and the main streets, important buildings," the officer told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "Even residential houses were booby-trapped."

Some 30,000 Iraqi troops and thousands of allied Shia and Sunni militias have been involved in the two-week operation to recapture Tikrit and other key towns and villages in the northern part of Salahudin province from IS militants.

However, they have been moving slowly and cautiously amid sporadic clashes with the militants, including a large number of IS snipers, while dealing with hundreds of roadside bombs and booby-trapped houses.

Much of Salahudin province has been under IS control since June 2014, after bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and the group.