The United States began conducting airstrikes against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday. The bombardment began at the request of the Iraqi government to jumpstart the lagging effort to expel ISIS fighters from the city, less than 100 miles north of Baghdad. The Associated Press characterized the bombing as “a significant expansion of the U.S. military role in Iraq.”
The request for American air support comes after the Iraqi government chose to carry out the three week-old offensive, expected to yield a quick victory, with Iranian technical support, rather than U.S. air support. “The decision to give air support to the Tikrit campaign represents the biggest collaboration so far by the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed paramilitaries and opens a new chapter in the war,” Reuters reports.
“These strikes are intended to destroy [ISIS] strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing” unintended damage to civilian structures, Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander of the U.S. effort to defeat ISIS, said in a written statement. “”This will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat [ISIS] in the vicinity of Tikrit.”
Tikrit is considered an important axis in the battle against ISIS in Iraq. It is seen as a barometer of the effectiveness of Iraqi forces in combating ISIS, as well as having strategic implications. “Complete control of Tikrit would give the Iraqi ground force command of a vital cluster of road networks, and would be the first major success in rolling back a lightning offensive by Islamic State last summer that brought the militants just a short drive away from Baghdad,” according to the New York Times. “Until Wednesday, American airstrikes had continued in other parts of Iraq, but not near Tikrit, which is on the main highway between Baghdad and Mosul in the north, Iraq’s second-largest city and a stronghold of the Islamic State since June.”
“The battle for Tikrit is widely seen as a step toward the more difficult and potentially decisive battle to regain control of the larger city of Mosul,” according to the AP.