Iraqi forces, ISIS fighters battle for Tikrit; Russian Sukhoi jets reach Baghdad

Having launched a robust offensive against the Sunni extremists, Iraqi forces claimed to have retaken the strategic town of Tikrit from the ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq) rebels, the state TV reported on Sunday.

By Supriya Jha | Last Updated: Jun 29, 2014, 17:30 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau/Supriya Jha

Baghdad: Iraqi forces trying to wrest back the control of Tikrit, had to retreat to a nearby city of Dijla as the ISIS militants fought back, resulting in fierce clashes.

Having launched a robust offensive against the Sunni extremists, Iraqi forces had earlier claimed to have retaken the strategic town of Tikrit from the ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq) rebels, the state TV had reported.

Armed with tanks and helicopter gunships, Iraqi forces carried out airstrikes on Sunni fighters of the ISIS in Tikrit and claimed to have killed dozens of insurgents.

According to the state media, the ISIS had been completely eliminated from Tikrit, the hometown of dictator Saddam Hussein, which had fallen to the militants on June 11.

However, the BBC cited eyewitnesses as saying that Iraqi troops had to bear a strong counter-attack by various factions controlling Tikrit and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (isis), were reported to have shot down a helicopter and captured the pilot.

Meanwhile, Iraq received a boost in the arrival of five Sukhoi warplanes from Russia which reached Baghdad on Saturday.

"We are in urgent need of this type of aircraft during this difficult time," a news agency quoted Iraqi air force commander Lt. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin as saying. "These jets will enter service within a few days - the coming three or four days - in order to support the units and to fight the terrorist ISIL organization."

The Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft would be pressed into service against the ISIS in "three to four days", stated the Defense Ministry.

According to the BBC, the counter-offensive launched by Iraqi Army in Tikrit was being co-ordinated with American military advisers. The report added that the soldiers were aided bu Sunni tribesmen and Shia militias.

However, the US denies that its military advisers are directly involved in hostilities and they are in Iraq just to protect the American personnel on ground.

The US has sent 300 military advisers to Iraq and has also confirmed flying armed drones there, but only to protect its interests.

America, which has ruled out direct military intervention in Iraq, has pushed for the formation of a new “inclusive” government in Iraq which can address the problems of all, especially the Sunnis and Kurds, who have felt marginalised during Shiite PM Nuri al-Maliki`s rule.

The US has not directly called for PM Maliki`s resignation, but has dropped broad hints that Iraq`s crisis will be solved only after a new government is formed.

Also, Iraq`s influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani has called for the appointment of PM by Tuesday  before the new parliament is convened.

Earlier, US Secretary of State John Kerry had visited Baghdad and told that Maliki had assured him that a new Iraqi cabinet will be formed by July 1.
Iraq is in throes of a deadly insurgency crisis as the ISIS militants have so far continued to advance ahead consistently, massacring Shia soldiers and also posting the videos online.
According to the UN, over 1,100 have been killed since the ISIS offensive and over a million have been displaced.