The top U.S. general has expressed confidence that the combined force of Iranian-back Shi’ite militias and Iraqi government troops will prevail in a battle against Islamic State (IS) militants who control the northern Iraqi town of Tikrit.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on March 7 that 23,000 Iranian-based Shi’ite militiamen, Sunnit tribal fighters, and Iraqi soldiers are involved in the offensive, compared to only "hundreds" of IS fighters.
But Dempsey cautioned that victory will mean little unless followed by a show of humanitarian and other support for mostly Sunni Tikrit by the Shiite-led Baghdad government.
Dempsey made the remarks aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier while traveling to Iraq, where a U.S.-led international coalition is providing air support for the Tikrit offensive.
He plans to fly into Iraq this weekend to get a fuller sense of Iran’s role in the battle against IS militants and what it means for Iraq’s future.
Dempsey said he wants to see if Iraq's leaders remain committed to political inclusiveness and national unity between Shi’a Muslims, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds.
Iraq’s government said its forces recaptured the town of Dur from IS militants on the outskirts of Tikrit on March 6.
Al-Iraqiya television said the government forces, Shi'ite militiamen, and Sunni tribal fighters killed dozens of militants in the battle for Dur.
Iraqi military commanders said Dur had been “totally liberated” and that forces were preparing for an advance on another key town nearby, Al-Alam, on March 7.
The offensive, part of a larger campaign to recapture the city of Mosul from IS fighters further north, entered its sixth day on March 7.
Dempsey said the battle for Tikrit, so far, has not been what the U.S. military would consider “a sophisticated military maneuver."
He described a hodge-podge of Iraqi armored Humvees, trucks, and other vehicles surging toward Tikrit as something similar to rush hour traffic in Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, further to the west in Iraq’s Anbar Province, the U.S. military said Iraqi government forces and tribal militia fighters cleared IS militants from the town of Baghdadi on the western banks of the Euphrates River.
That government-led ground assault, together with U.S.-led coalition air strikes, had been targeting IS militants in Baghdadi for days.
Baghdadi is located near an air base where U.S. military personnel are training Iraqi soldiers.