Iran-backed Iraqi forces seize towns near Tikrit

DAILY SABAH WITH AGENCIES
ISTANBUL
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Iraqi forces along with Shiite militias that are explicitly supported by Tehran are driving ISIS militants out of key towns near Tikrit while fears of sectarian cleansing rise among civilians

Iranian-backed Iraqi forces along with Shiite militias are fighting Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants to recapture Tikrit. Some 30,000 men have been involved in the operation to recapture Tikrit, one of ISIS's main hubs since they overran large parts of Iraq nine months ago. The offensive is the biggest military operation in the province since the militants seized swaths of northern Iraq last June and advanced toward Baghdad. Iraqi security forces on Tuesday retook a town next to Tikrit, military officials reported.

The Iraqi forces entered Alam early in the morning and hours later gained full control of the town adjacent to Tikrit, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. Ahmed al-Karim, the Salahuddin provincial council chief said that progress had been slow due to roadside bombs and sniper attacks.

Before Alam, the offensive succeeded in clawing backs a few villages and towns, most notably Dawr, south of Tikrit. Among those directing operations is Iranian General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force. The overt Iranian role and the prominence of Shiite militias in the campaign have raised fears of possible sectarian cleansing should Tikrit, an overwhelmingly Sunni city, fall to the government troops.

The U.S. and Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned an offensive to retake control of the Iraqi city of Tikrit must not fuel sectarian tensions. In a report released by HRW last month, it was revealed that Iraqi people are not only suffering from atrocities committed by ISIS militants but also from armed government-backed Shiite militants. The report said the militias work closely with Iraqi government forces.

"Abuses by militias allied with Iraqi security forces in Sunni areas have escalated in recent months. Residents have been forced from their homes, kidnapped, and in some cases summarily executed." At least 3,000 people have fled their homes in the Muqdadiyya area of Diyala province since June 2014 and, since October, been prevented from returning.

In addition to the events documented here, Human Rights Watch is conducting an investigation into more recent allegations that militia and SWAT forces killed 72 civilians in the town of Barwana, also in Muqdadiyya," the report said. The report also underlines that many have been abducted and dozens of families lost contact with their relatives.

In a previous report released on last October by Amnesty International, which covers human rights violations in more than 150 countries it was claimed that the Iraqi government is largely responsible for the attacks on the civilians since the militias target Sunni Iraqis deliberately, as a response to the ISIS attacks, despite there being no concrete evidence that links ISIS and unarmed Sunnis. The report said "In recent months, Shi'a militias have been abducting and killing Sunni civilian men in Baghdad and around the country.

These militias, often armed and backed by the government of Iraq, continue to operate with varying degrees of cooperation from government forces – ranging from tacit consent to coordinated, or even joint, operations. For these reasons, Amnesty International holds the government of Iraq largely responsible for the serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, committed by these militias."

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