Tags: Iraq | Tikirt | jihadists

Iraq Helicopter Crashes in Airborne Commando Assault on Tikrit

Friday, 27 Jun 2014 08:50 AM

BAGHDAD/ARBIL — Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on rebel-held Tikrit on Thursday with commandos flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after taking fire from insurgents who have seized northern cities.

Witnesses said battles were raging in the city, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, which fell to Sunni Islamist fighters two weeks ago on the third day of a lightning offensive that has given them control of most majority Sunni regions.

The helicopters were shot at as they flew low over the city and landed in a stadium at the city's university, a security source at the scene said. Government spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment and by evening the assault was still not being reported on state media.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said fierce clashes ensued, centered around the university compound.

Ahmed al-Jubbour, professor at the university's college of agriculture, described fighting in the colleges of agriculture and sports education after three helicopters arrived.

"I saw one of the helicopters land opposite the university with my own eyes and I saw clashes between dozens of militants and government forces," he said.

Jubbour said one helicopter crash-landed in the stadium. Another left after dropping off troops and a third remained on the ground. Army snipers were positioning themselves on tall buildings in the university complex.

Iraq's million-strong army, trained and equipped by the United States, largely evaporated in the north after Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant launched their assault with the capture of the north's biggest city Mosul on June 10.

But in recent days, government forces have been fighting back, relying on elite commandos flown in by helicopter to defend the country's biggest oil refinery at Baiji.

A successful operation to recapture territory inside Tikrit would deliver the most serious blow yet against an insurgency which for most of the past two weeks has seemed all but unstoppable in the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad.

Fighters from ISIL — an al-Qaida offshoot which says all Shi'ites are heretics who should be killed — have been assisted in their advance by other, more moderate Sunni armed groups who share their view that Sunnis have been persecuted under Nouri al-Maliki.

Washington hopes that armed Sunni tribal groups, which turned against al-Qaida during the U.S. "surge" offensive of 2006-2007, can again be persuaded to switch sides and back the government, provided that a new cabinet is more inclusive.

The United States, which withdrew its ground forces in 2011, has ruled out sending them back but is despatching up to 300 military advisers, mostly special forces troops, to help organise Baghdad's military response.

The Pentagon said on Thursday that an additional 50 troops had arrived in Baghdad and the first of two Joint Operations Centers had been activated.

The fighters have been halted about an hour's drive north of Baghdad and on its western outskirts, but have pressed on with their advances in areas like religiously mixed Diyala province north of the capital, long one of Iraq's most violent areas.

On Thursday morning, ISIL fighters staged an assault on the town of Mansouriyat al-Jabal, home to inactive gas fields where foreign firms operate, in northeastern Diyala province. An Iraqi oil ministry official denied fighters had taken the field.

A roadside bomb in Baghdad's Shi'ite northern district of Kadhimiya killed eight people on Thursday, police and hospital sources said.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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MiddleEast
Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on rebel-held Tikrit on Thursday with commandos flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after taking fire from insurgents who have seized northern cities.
Iraq, Tikirt, jihadists
573
2014-50-27
Friday, 27 Jun 2014 08:50 AM
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