By Erik Goepner
An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pro-Iraqi government fighters appear poised to eject the remaining IS fighters from Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Concerning on-going sectarian tensions, Shia militia reportedly constitute the vast majority of the pro-government fighting force, supported by approximately 3,000 Iraqi troops and a small group of Sunnis. No surprise, then, that U.S. officials expressed concerns over the potential for similar “sectarian alienation” between Sunnis and Shias, which left Iraq vulnerable to ISIS in the first place. In addition, Iranian advisors are participating, with the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, helping to lead the battle. Soleimani’s presence in Iraq appears to be in violation of a 2007 U.N.-imposed travel ban stemming from the terrorist support provided by the Quds force he commands. The U.S. is not taking part in the operation, with U.S. officials saying they were not asked by Iraq to participate.
Twenty-thousand foreign fighters from 81 countries are estimated to have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, with a fifth coming from western European nations. For additional information see “Foreign Fighters in Syria” by Richard Barrett and the Munich Security Report 2015 (p. 38).
Image Credit: U.S. Army