Iraq forces retake government HQ in Tikrit from ISIL
KIRKUK, Iraq - Agence France-Presse
A member of the Iraqi security forces carries his weapon as he watches smoke rise from a scene of clashes between the Iraqi army and Islamic State militants in Tikrit March 30, 2015. REUTERS PhotoIraqi forces have retaken the Salaheddin provincial government headquarters in Tikrit from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a significant advance in the battle to recapture the city, officials said March 31.
The spokesman for the Badr militia said members of the Popular Mobilisation units -- pro-government paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias -- took part in the fighting, after some froze offensive operations last week in response to US-led air strikes.
"Iraqi forces cleared the government complex in Tikrit," an army major general said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The government buildings have been under our control since last night (Monday)." It is the most significant advance in Tikrit since pro-government forces launched an operation to retake the city on March 2, their largest since IS led an offensive that overran much of the country's Sunni Arab heartland last June.
Salaheddin Governor Raad al-Juburi confirmed that the government headquarters had been retaken, saying that Iraqi flags now flew over various recaptured buildings in the city.
Badr spokesman Karim al-Nuri also said that the government headquarters was recaptured, and that Popular Mobilisation members fought alongside federal police in the operation.
Key Shiite militia forces said they were halting Tikrit operations when a US-led anti-IS coalition began air strikes in the area after weeks in which Iran was the main foreign partner in the operation.
The coalition strikes started last Wednesday, angering Shiite militiamen who accused Washington of attempting to hijack their victory.
The Pentagon conditioned its intervention on an enhanced role for regular government forces, and on Friday hailed the withdrawal from the fight of "those Shiite militias who are linked to, infiltrated by, (or) otherwise under the influence of Iran".
The coalition said it carried out three strikes in the Tikrit area from Sunday to Monday, in its most recent statement on the air campaign.
After giving themselves political cover by declaring that they do not want to work with each other, both sides are still taking part in the Tikrit operation.
The main militias in the Popular Mobilisation forces have played a key role in successful operations against IS in multiple areas north of Baghdad, but they have also been accused of abuses including summary executions and destruction of property.
During a visit to Baghdad on Monday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said that Iraq must "bring volunteer armed groups fighting in support of the government under government control".
"Civilians freed from the brutality of Daesh should not have to then fear their liberators," Ban said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Security in and around Baghdad has improved markedly during the battle against IS, in large part because the jihadists have been occupied with fighting elsewhere.
But attacks still occur, such as a suicide bombing that targeted a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims on Tuesday in the Taji area, north of the capital.
The blast killed at least four people and wounded at least 11, security and medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suicide bombings are a tactic almost exclusively employed in Iraq by Sunni extremist groups including IS, which consider Shiites to be apostates and frequently target them.