Iraq launches offensive to retake Tikrit, gets Russian jets

Iraq-ISIS-mapA major push to drive back militant Sunni groups, that have taken control of key cities, oil fields and border crossings in north and western Iraq, began on June 29, as the Iraqi government appeared uplifted by the recently acquired fighter jets from Russia.

The first battle of this major offensive is being fought in Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein, which was taken by Sunni rebels, led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on June 11. According to media sources, there were conflicting reports as to the advances made by the Iraqi military in its initial thrust towards Tikrit.

The struggling forces of the Iraqi government are being aided by a number of international actors including Russia and the US.

Even as the first 300 US military advisors arrived in Baghdad, it was the delivery of the first batch of Sukhoi warplanes from Russia that has boosted the increasingly unstable government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Russia has reportedly sold a dozen Soviet-era Su-25 fighter jets to Iraq, which it hopes will help attack the militant dens.

Referring to the continued delay in the delivery of 34 F-16 fighter from the US, Maliki had publically complained that had Baghdad purchased warplanes from Russia, Britain or French rather than the US, it could have avoided the situation it is in right now.

The recent crisis in Iraq has opened up space for Russia to rejuvenate it’s stagnant relations with West Asia. By being an efficient rather than an intrusive partner, Russia has managed to rekindle some of Soviet Union’s influence in the region.

Russia has continuously been vocal about foreign intervention in Iraq and also recently in Syria. “We are greatly alarmed by what is happening in Iraq. We warned long ago that the affair that the Americans and the Britons stirred up there wouldn’t end well,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 11.
It had also condemned efforts by the US to aid Sunni rebel groups against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, warning that aiding rebels would only help spread the violence, and prolong the war, and called instead for dialogue.

Meanwhile, on June 29, the ISIS declared its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the caliph” and the “leader of Muslims everywhere”. The group also announced that it now refers to itself as The Islamic State, and declared territories under control as the new caliphate. The territory stretches from Iraq’s Diyala province to Syria’s Aleppo.

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