Iraq Troops Enter Tikrit, Drive Islamic State From Oilfields

Iraqi army fighters launch an operation against IS near Tikrit, Iraq, on March 2, 2015.

Photographer: Ali Mohammed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iraqi forces entered the central city of Tikrit in an attempt to drive out Islamic State militants, and regained control of two oilfields in the region, a local official said.

Iraqi forces entered Tikrit from the north and south, and took control of several sites including the police academy and hospital, Khalid al-Khazraji, deputy chief of security in Salahuddin province, said by phone. Another three or four days may be needed to gain full control of the city, he said.

The Ajeel and Hamrin-Alas oilfields in Salahuddin were recaptured on Tuesday and are under the control of soldiers backed by local militias and tribes, al-Khazraji said.

Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, fell to Islamic State during its initial surge of conquest in northern Iraq in June last year. Iraq’s government this week announced a major military offensive to recapture it, with army units backed by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

While Iran, an ally of the Shiite-led Iraqi government, has helped coordinate the assault, the U.S. -- which is leading a bombing campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria -- says it hasn’t been asked to provide air support.

‘Overt’ Involvement

The top U.S. military official, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the Tikrit offensive marked Iran’s “most overt” involvement in Iraq since it began influencing operations there in 2004, a year after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam.

Previous Iraqi efforts to dislodge Islamic State have been unsuccessful. Iraqi and U.S. officials say an offensive is planned for the coming months to retake Mosul, the biggest city captured by the jihadists.

The Ajeel oilfield has a production capacity of 28,000 barrels a day, though airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have caused significant damage, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The EIA in January cited an Iraqi official as saying that total output from fields controlled by Islamic State in the country was not more than 15,000 barrels a day.

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