26 Mar 2015
American jets have bombed Isil hold-outs in Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, after they held up an advance by Iraqi government and Iranian-backed militia forces.
Pro-Baghdad troops, advised and supplied by the Iranians, launched a major attack on the city at the beginning of the month, sweeping through its suburbs from north and south.
But Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters held their ground in the old presidential palace complex in the east of the city, and part of the city centre, while heavily booby-trapping the surrounding area.
President Barack Obama responded to a request by Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, for air support, which he made over the heads of commanders of the Shia militias who make up most of the pro-Baghdad fighting force.
Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds force
Officials in Washington briefed the media that Mr Obama saw the failure of the Baghdad forces to take Tikrit, despite the attack being co-ordinated by a senior Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, as an opportunity to re-establish American influence in the country.
"Taking back Tikrit is important, but it gives us an opportunity to have our half of the operation win this one," one told The New York Times.
The Iraqi request for American support came last week, but was approved by Mr Obama only on Wednesday, according to local reports, an indication of the sensitivity of the administration to charges that it is effectively acting as the Iranian air force.
Iraqi militia leader Hadi al-Amiri speaks to the press in Samarra, Iraq (AP)
"We appreciate the seriousness of the security situation in Iraq and the brutal actions of ISIL but we have expressed our concerns about Iranian activities in Iraq and reports of Iranian flow of arms into Iraq," a Pentagon spokesman told The Telegraph, denying that the Americans could be seen as "co-ordinating or collaborating" with Iran.
Iran holds the protection of the Shia-led government in Iraq as a major strategic priority, as with its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and has thrown its weight behind the Iraqi army and the militias.
Iraqi commander of the Badr militia, Hadi al-Ameri, derided the army as "weaklings" (AFP/Getty)
Hadi al-Ameri, leader of the most powerful militia organisation, the Badr, who is close to Tehran, at the weekend derided the army as "weaklings" for suggesting it wanted American aerial support to defeat Isil. Mr Abadi, though, is strongly backed by the West and has improved ties with Iran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia.
Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is strongly backed by the West (AFP/Getty)
He announced the strikes in a live broadcast late on Wednesday night. They hit the presidential palace compound, an area near the hospital and at least two other places.
In Washington, the strikes were described as "not massive" and comparable to previous strikes across Iraq and Syria.
"I can confirm that the government of Iraq has requested coalition support for operations in Tikrit," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said. "Operations are ongoing."
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