The contest for Tikrit is escalating. The ground offensive to retake the city has resumed following U.S. airstrikes, although without the Iranian-backed militias that withdrew in opposition to coalition involvement.
Iranian-backed militias have exhibited mixed reactions to the participation of the U.S.-led coalition in the Tikrit operation.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has announced that the "last phase" of the Salah ad-Din operations has begun, likely in reference to the operation to retake Tikrit.
The deployments of ISF units from the south to various fronts in western and northern Iraq between December 2013 and the present has caused a security vacuum in the southern provinces.
Iraqi Security Forces, Shi'a militias, and the Popular Mobilization have begun to shell Tikrit. Shelling may disrupt ISIS within the city, making further advances to clear ISIS possible. Shelling will also likely inflict civilian casualties, which may have divisive consequences within the Popular Mobilization.
The role of Iranian-backed militias is introducing an obstacle for the Iraqi Government in its effort to reclaim the territories that fell out of its control. Since the fall of Mosul in 2014, these militias have played a crucial role in retaking areas from ISIS with minimal support from coalition air power and heavy reliance on Iranian support. The lack of precise coalition targeting is for the first time a limiting factor leading Iraqi commanders to halt the operation to retake Tikrit.
Various Iraqi forces are pressuring ISIS on three different fronts, all of which are of strategic importance to the organization. ISIS will therefore likely attempt to escalate its attacks elsewhere to divert the resources of these forces.
The main area of Alam sub-district, NE of Tikrit, was declared retaken from ISIS by the ISF, Iraqi Shi’a militias, and local Iraqi Sunni fighters on March 9. Since then, there have been no reports of clashes in the area to suggest a continued presence of ISIS or a concrete effort by ISIS to retake Alam.
“The concern [over Shi’a militias] is what happens after the battle. Will there be sectarian violence?… Or will there be a relatively inclusive kind of governance and even-handed governance? If it’s the latter, that will bode well for the future. If it’s the former, these will be big problems.”