The US Air Force was directed by the White House to launch air strikes against the Islamic State in Tikrit Thursday, March 26 for the first time. The combined forces of the Iraqi military, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and pro-Iranian Shiite militias – some imported from Pakistan and Pakistan – were stuck in the sand after two weeks of bloody combat which failed to break the Islamic State’s grip on the important Iraqi Sunni city.
DEBKA Weekly’s exclusive military sources report that the Tikrit offensive had wound down to a halt a week ago, leaving ISIS in control of most of the town’s center and districts.
Click HERE to see the full-size map.
The prominent militia leader, Gen. Hadi Al-Amiri, chief of the mixed Iranian-Iraqi Shiite Badr Brigade found himself trapped in a quarrel among Iraqi and Iranian officers over responsibility for the setback.
(See DEBKA Weekly 656 of March 20: ISIS Proves a Tough, Crafty Foe)
The mixed bag of multinational Shiite fighting strength Iran fielded for the offensive was patently not up to its first major combat mission. Still, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi held back for a time from requesting US Air Force intervention to break the impasse, because of two constraints:
1. The Obama administration initially shied away from publicly exposing US military collaboration with the Iranian army, especially with its infamous Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Iran eats crow and sends Iraqi premier to bid for US military aid
2. Tehran was deeply reluctant to own up to its failure to beat ISIS in ground combat without calling on the United States – in this case the US Air Force – for aid and support.
But equally, Iran’s leaders could not afford to leave the field to the Islamic State, in view of the inevitable repercussions on their positions in the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts. And so they authorized Al-Abadi to submit to Washington an official Iraqi request for the US to mount air strikes against ISIS forces and provide precise surveillance and reconnaissance intelligence on their ground disposition in Tikrit.
Had President Barack Obama sought to continue to muddy over his partnership with Tehran, he would have turned the Iraqi prime minister down. But he took the opposite tack and chose to use the important Iraqi battle for Tikrit as a curtain-raiser to showcase this facet of US-Iranian anti-terror collaboration.
In consequence, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that the first US reconnaissance planes and drones flew over Tikrit Monday, March 23, and gathered information on the Islamist forces’ deployment in the embattled city.
US surveillance intelligence passed to Iranian commanders
The critical intelligence was delivered into the hands of Iraqi air force and military intelligence officers posted in the prime minister’s office in Baghdad, who passed it straight on to the Iranian field command post and IRGC headquarters in Tehran.
This reconnaissance and surveillance data included the coordinates for the locations of ISIS command posts, positions and bases. This material was gathered ready for the US Air Force when it went into action against ISIS in Tikrit Thursday, March 26.
Washington announced this week that the Iraqi prime minister would visit Washington on April 14 for talks with President Obama. The US, Iran and Iraq are determined to have the battle for Tikrit over and done with by then, thanks to sustained US air assaults.
On the ground itself, the incredible hodgepodge of war materiél amply reflects the unique nature of the improbable US-Iranian-Iraqi- Shiite military alliance struggling for momentum against the Islamic State in Iraq.
Part of the equipment is supplied by the US to the Iraqi army and passed to Iranian and Shiite militiamen, and part consists of Iranian weaponry wielded by Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.
This rare mishmash is visually illustrated by a series of authentic photos which DEBKA Weekly has just obtained exclusively from the Tikrit battlefield. Click HERE to see our exclusive slide show.