The Iraqi army has undertaken a major offensive to dislodge ISIS forces from Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. It seems to be working.
According to witnesses and officials, Iraqi government forces have driven ISIS out of the center of Tikrit, forcing them to abandon government buildings and strategic points along the roads. It's the first major offensive taken by the government since ISIS began its successful campaign to take over parts of northern and western Iraq.
One ISIS supporter sought to dispel the momentum with some pretty brash and seemingly unverifiable claims:
While they were repelled just shy of Baghdad, the radical Sunni militant group has been fortifying its positions across the wide swaths of Iraq in recent days. Here's how the Times framed the response by the Iraqi government:
Some Iraqi military analysts said they thought it was no coincidence that army’s counteroffensive was launched now, with 180 of the 300 American advisers ordered to Iraq by President Obama arriving over the past three days, but Iraqi officials denied that there was any American role."
Meanwhile, there have been several other important developments. First, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticized by the international community for failing to include minorities in his government (as well as champion their rights) lost the vital backing of Iran's leading cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani yesterday.
#BreakingNews Iraq's top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani calls for naming a new premier before convening parliament on Tuesday— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) June 27, 2014
Over at Business Insider, Michael Kelley and Armin Rosen suggest something Machiavellian about this move:
With Sistani appearing to broker Maliki's exit, Iran's hands can appear relatively clean — and Tehran will get a hand-picked successor to Maliki that seems to diffuse the country's political crisis without lessening Iranian influence."
Also, in a wild turn, Human Rights Watch reportedly uncovered the sites of the massacres that ISIS had been trumpeting over social media a few weeks ago. The finding of mass graves verifies, at least in part, the ISIS claim that they had executed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers. The mass graves were located near Tikrit, site to today's big counteroffensive.