03/12/2015, 00.00
IRAQ
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Retaking Tikrit, a probable victory with major political risks

Baghdad has highlighted the cooperation of Sunni tribal groups with the army and Shia "volunteers", hoping to break the link between Sunnis and the Islamic State group. However, the presence of the Iranian revolutionary guards and the fear of reprisals against Saddam Hussein's hometown threaten to undermine expectations.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Iraqi army yesterday announced emphatically that its troops are progressing rapidly towards the centre of the city of Tikrit, which is soon going to be in their complete control.

US General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "there is no doubt" Iraqi forces will drive Islamic State (IS) militants out of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, which they took last June.

Although not complete, the retaking the city, as shown by some videos, is part of the Iraqi government plan to retake Mosul and expel IS from the country.

Strategically, Tikrit will prove to be a test of wills for the government in Baghdad, and a preview of future battles.

How the fight goes and how it ends will have major ramifications for the rest or Iraq, especially because of the support of local Sunni tribes.

Tikrit, a predominantly Sunni city, has always shown opposition to the Shia-led national government, and initially welcomed Sunni IS fighters.

Now, more than 20,000 troops and Shia militias, supported by Iranian revolutionary guards, are on the brink of retaking it.

The Shia presence raises fears that a victory might not have the positive political outcome the Iraqi government is hoping for.

There have also been concerns about the overt involvement of the Iranian military in the operation, with top Revolutionary Guards commander Gen Qasem Soleimani reportedly overseeing it.

Some analysts have also expressed fears that Shia militiamen fighting alongside government forces may carry out reprisals for the massacre by IS fighters and allied Sunni tribesmen of at least 700 soldiers, most of them Shia, at nearby Camp Speicher in June.

In fact, there are already reports of ransacked and burnt houses in the newly "liberated" areas.

Such reports and the possible destruction of Sunni mosques would dash any hope the government has that the taking of Tikrit - with collaboration with Sunni tribal militiamen - could drive a wedge between Sunnis and IS.

General Martin Dempsey has also warned that if the Iraqi government fails to bridge the sectarian divide, it will jeopardise the international coalition against IS.

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