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As The Battle For Tikrit Begins, A Map Of Who Controls What

As the world awaits to see if following his speech, Israel's PM will now proceed with launching a full on assault on Iran just to show he means business, or at least stage yet another false flag intervention to greenlight war in the middle east, several hundred kilometers to the northeast, the biggest offensive in the "war on ISIS" is now taking place after thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi'ite militiamen seek to retake the northern Iraqi town and birthplace of Saddam Hussein, Tikrit.

As previously reported, U.S. officials said last month that plans are afoot for a massive operation to recapture Mosul from ISIS — probably this spring — but wresting Tikrit from the militants beforehand is seen as critical given the city's strategic location. The question is whether third time will be the charm, er, offensive: Iraq's security forces have tried repeatedly — in June, again in August — to retake Tikrit but made little headway against the militants. This time may or may not be different, with a key variable being whether US air support will be granted to the local "resistance" fighters.

According to Reuters, Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, who has helped coordinate Baghdad's counter-attacks against Islamic State since it seized much of northern Iraq in June, was overseeing at least part of the operation. In other words, the same Iran that was being vilifies in Congress is now fighting on behalf of the US-led "alliance", to eradicate the same terrorists which according to some, have seen a substantial Mossad influence in their appearance. Ironic.

As Reuters puts it, the Iranian's presence on the frontline highlights neighbouring Iran's influence over the Shi'ite fighters who have been key to containing the militants in Iraq.

In contrast, the U.S.-led air coalition which has been attacking Islamic State across Iraq and Syria has not yet played a role in Tikrit, the Pentagon said on Monday, perhaps partly because of the high-level Iranian presence.  Iraqi military officials said security forces backed by the Shi'ite militia known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) were advancing gradually, their progress slowed by roadside bombs and snipers.

Adding to the confusion, on the southern flank of the offensive, army and police officials said government forces had surrounded and sealed off al-Dour, but had not yet launched an assault on the town, a source in military operations command said. To the north, they captured a village close to Tikrit, the army said.

More confusion: we now have a war against a stateless enemy that has seen Iraqi and Iranian soldiers fighting side by side:

Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was directing operations on the eastern flank from a village about 55 km (35 miles) from Tikrit called Albu Rayash, captured from Islamic State two days ago.

 

With him were two Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary leaders: the leader of the Hashid Shaabi, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, and Hadi al-Amiri who leads the Badr Organisation, a powerful Shi'ite militia.

 

"(Soleimani) was standing on top of a hill pointing with his hands towards the areas where Islamic State are still operating," said a witness who was accompanying security forces near Albu Rayash.

Perhaps he is also pointing to where he hopes Iran borders will stretch in the coming years? Although before crossing that bridge, ISIS ground soliders will have to be repelled from a city which they are fiercely guarding and in which they have been strongly fortified:

The offensive is the biggest in the Salahuddin region north of Baghdad since last summer, when Islamic State killed hundreds of Iraqi army soldiers who had abandoned their base at Camp Speicher outside Tikrit.

 

Several Shi'ite Hashid Shaabi fighters have described this week's campaign - which has been given the title "Here I am, Messenger of God" - as revenge for the Speicher killings. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has urged them to protect civilians in Salahuddin, a mainly Sunni Muslim province.

And while Tikrit itself is irrelevant, the battle "will have a major impact on plans to move further north and recapture Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State rule."

If the offensive stalls, it will complicate and delay a move on Mosul. A quick victory would give Baghdad momentum, but any retribution against local Sunnis would imperil efforts to win over Mosul's mainly Sunni population.

 

To the west of Mosul, Islamic State fighters attacked Kurdish forces in the town of Sinjar on Monday, a senior peshmerga source said. Nine peshmerga and 45 militants were killed in the fighting, which began with a suicide car bomb in the Nasr quarter of the town.

 

Islamic State "want to show people they can still attack and inflict losses on the peshmerga", the source said. Kurdish forces currently control around 30 percent of the town of Sinjar, as well as the hills to the north and the mountain overlooking it.

As noted above: much confusion all around since pretty much everyone in the middle east is now somehow involved in this war on Iraqi/ISIS soil, so to provide some clarity, here is a simple map showing who controls what in this latest diversionary war designed merely to get Syria's president committed so the US has a legitimate pretext to obliterate him.