WASHINGTON, March 27, 2015 —
Several thousand regular Iraqi security forces and troops from the Popular Mobilization Forces have resumed their offensive operations on the ground in Tikrit, Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.
Some Shiite militia units have withdrawn from the battlefield, Warren added.
"These are primarily the Shia militia units that we had no interest in being on the battlefield in the first place,” he said. “These are the Shia militia that are clearly linked or often infiltrated by Iran, so their departure from the battlefield is welcome."
The withdrawal of militia groups with links to Iran was a precondition of U.S. air support for the effort to retake Tikrit from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists, who have held the city since June, Warren said.
Zero Tolerance for Sectarian Improprieties
"The Iraqis had a decision to make," he said. “They were able to observe firsthand exactly what Iran brought to the table as they conducted operations in and around Tikrit. They have also been able to observe firsthand what the coalition brings to the table, based on operations throughout the rest of the Iraq. The Iraqis obviously have made a decision."
The forces that remain on the battlefield are loyal to the government of Iraq and under the direct control of Iraq's Ministry of Defense, the colonel said.
"Prime Minister [Haider] al-Abadi has made it very clear to them that ... there is a zero-tolerance policy for any sectarian improprieties," he said.
U.S., coalition and Iraqi airstrikes against ISIL targets continue in the region, Warren said, noting that the effectiveness of the air campaign has been clearly demonstrated by the fact that the ground offensive in Tikrit has resumed. The colonel cautioned against attempting to guess at a timeline for offensive operations inside the city.
"Urban warfare is difficult. It is rough, hot, bloody, tiring, exhaustive work, and so no one should expect this to be an overnight thing," he said. "This is a hard fight that the Iraqis are going to have to go through and it will be difficult."
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)