On the evening of April 2, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the liberation of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS) and the raising of the Iraqi flag over the local government building.
Tikrit is the first major Iraqi city to be retaken from the extremist group. IS first occupied Fallujah in January 2014 and then took Mosul and Tikrit in June. The liberation of Tikrit is informative in a number of ways in highlighting the approach needed for success in future battles against IS.
First, the military operation in Tikrit was an example of the integration of the Iraqi army and police on the one hand and the popular mobilization forces and the tribes on the other, along with support from the international coalition assembled to launch air strikes against IS. The coalition played a pivotal role in targeting IS fortifications in Tikrit.
Second, holding ground in Tikrit, which will not be easy, will require trained forces able to completely cleanse the city of gunmen and IS members, rehabilitate it and allow inhabitants to return and restore normal life there.
Third, the battle for Tikrit has sent the message to IS that the Iraqi forces have overcome the shock of their initial defeat by the group and have shifted into fighting mode. Eliminating IS in Iraq is now only a matter of time.
Fourth, speeding the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Tikrit to permit the return of displaced residents will undermine the momentum of IS’ propaganda campaign, which has portrayed Iraqi forces simply as militias seeking revenge. Thus, a key factor is that the forces stationed in Tikrit remain disciplined and that they hand over security to the local police, as ordered April 1 by Abadi after the city is fully secured.
It will be a message of reassurance to local residents that security in the city will be the task of the police after the army and the popular mobilization forces wrap up their operations, restoring the civilian character of Tikrit. On the first day of the city’s liberation, fighters in the popular mobilization forces torched and looted a number of homes.
Abadi condemned such acts and threatened to sanction anyone caught violating the rights and property of Tikrit residents. Numerous violators were arrested. The process of reconstructing infrastructure in the city has already begun.