The Battle for Tikrit

For the past two weeks, 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers, and several increasingly influential paramilitary popular mobilization units (primarily Shiite militias, many backed by Iran), have been advancing on the city of Tikrit and the surrounding ISIS-held territory north of Baghdad. The campaign to roll back gains made by ISIS militants in northern Iraq last year has already led to the recapturing of Tikrit's outskirts and many surrounding towns. Saddam Hussein once called Tikrit home, and his tomb was erected there—a structure reduced to rubble by recent battles. Photojournalists traveled to the front lines with the pro-government forces to collect these images. Reuters photographer Thaier Al-Sudani reported that most areas that were retaken had no residents, and that "after the battle they would resemble ghost towns, nothing but burnt cars and charred bodies of Islamic State fighters." As of today, ISIS still controls parts of Tikrit, and the New York Times reports that Iraqi government forces have paused the offensive to call for reinforcements and to preserve property and civilian lives. [31 photos total]

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1
Shiite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi walk as smoke rises from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an ISIS suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit, Iraq, on March 12, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
2
Shiite fighters ride an armored vehicle in the town of al-Alam on March 9, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
3
A Shiite fighter launches a rocket during clashes with ISIS militants on the outskirts of al-Alam on March 8, 2015. Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighting the Islamic State took control of the center of a town on the southern outskirts of Saddam Hussein's home city Tikrit on Sunday, security officials said. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
4
Smoke billows as members of the Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilization units, gather in the village of Albu Ajil, near the city of Tikrit, after they regained control of the area from ISIS jihadists on March 9, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #
5
A destroyed building with a wall painted with the black flag commonly used by ISIS militants, in the town of al-Alam, Iraq, on March 10, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
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A member of militias known as Hashid Shaabi kneels as he celebrates victory while smoke rises from a clash with ISIS militants in the town of al-Alam on March 10, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
7
An Iraqi soldier watches the movements of the enemy at the front line in Tikrit on March 13, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
8
A young volunteer kisses the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as a Shiite cleric blesses him before going into battle against ISIS fighters in Tikrit on March 15, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
9
Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters gather at Udhaim dam, north of Baghdad, on March 2, 2015. (Reuters) #
10
A young volunteer militiaman on his way to the battlefield against ISIS fighters in Tikrit on March 15, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
11
Members of Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters sit on a vehicle in Al Hadidiya, south of Tikrit, en route to the ISIS-controlled al-Alam town, where they were preparing to launch an offensive on March 6, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
12
A member of the Iraqi paramilitary Popular Mobilization units, with "Daesh" (an Arabic acronym for ISIS) written on his boots, take part in a military operation in the village of Albu Ajil, near the city of Tikrit, on March 9, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #
13
An Iraqi Army armored vehicle prepares to attack ISIS extremists in Tikrit on March 12, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
14
A road sign stands outside Tikrit as smoke rises from a clash with ISIS militants in the town of al-Alam on March 9, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
15
Shiite fighters fire their weapons during clashes with ISIS militants in Salahuddin province on March 3, 2015. (Ahmed Al-Hussaini/Reuters) #
16
Iraqi security forces try to regain control of the Qadisiyah neighborhood in Tikrit, on March 12, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
17
Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite militiamen clash with Islamic State fighters at the front line in the Qadisiyah neighborhood in Tikrit, on March 15, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
18
Smoke rises during clashes between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province on March 2, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
19
A military vehicle, belonging to Shiite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi, burns after being hit by ISIS militants, during clashes in northern Tikrit, on March 11, 2015. (Reuters) #
20
An Iraqi soldier takes photos of the demolished tomb of former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein in Tikrit on March 15, 2015. The tomb of Iraq's late dictator was virtually leveled in heavy clashes between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces in a fight for control of the city of Tikrit. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
21
Iraqi soldiers inspect the damage at a mosque the day after a car bomb attack in Tikrit on March 13, 2015. (Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo) #
22
Members of the Iraqi paramilitary popular mobilization units celebrate with an ISIS flag after retaking the village of Albu Ajil, near the city of Tikrit, on March 9, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #
23
Iraqi policemen stand near wreckage of a vehicle and burned bodies of ISIS militants on the outskirts of al-Alam on March 8, 2015. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
24
A picture taken from the village of Awja on the outskirts of the city of Tikrit on March 5, 2015, shows the palace of Iraq's former leader Saddam Hussein in the city of Tikrit. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #
25
Iraqi pro-government forces hold a position in Al-Alam village, northeast of the multi-ethnic city of Tikrit, on March 8, 2015. (Younis Al-Bayati/AFP/Getty Images) #
26
Members of a Shiite group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, flash victory signs during a funeral procession for six of their comrades who were killed in Tikrit, fighting ISIS militants, in Najaf, 100 mi (160 km) south of Baghdad, Iraq, on March 5, 2015. (Jaber al-Helo/AP Photo) #
27
Shiite fighters, known as Hashid Shaabi, clash with ISIS militants, as one tries to put a Shiite flag in the ground, in northern Tikrit, on March 12, 2015. (Reuters/Stringer) #
28
Volunteer Shiite fighters, known as the popular mobilization units, who support the Iraqi government forces in the combat against ISIS, fire a Howitzer in the village of Awaynat near the city of Tikrit on February 28, 2015. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images) #
29
Smoke rises from an explosives-laden military vehicle driven by an ISIS suicide bomber which exploded during an attack on the southern edge of Tikrit on March 12, 2015. Iraqi security forces and mainly Shiite militia exchanged fire sporadically with Islamic State fighters in Tikrit on Thursday, a day after they pushed into Saddam Hussein's home city. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
30
A woman welcomes her brother who came as part of a militias known as Hashid Shaabi to the town of al-Alam on March 10, 2015. Iraqi troops and militias drove Islamic State insurgents out of al-Alam on Tuesday, clearing a final hurdle before a planned assault on Tikrit. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #
31
A woman hugs her brother, a fighter with a militia known as Hashid Shaabi, as they are reunited in the town of al-Alam, on March 10, 2015. She had been living under ISIS rule for six months. (Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters) #

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