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No Iraq request for coalition air support in Tikrit campaign

By Reuters - Mar 19,2015 - Last updated at Mar 19,2015

ERBIL, Iraq — Iraq has not requested air support from the US-led coalition for its campaign to retake Tikrit from Daesh insurgents, a senior military official in the coalition said on Thursday, as the assault on the city remained on pause for nearly a week.

Some Iraqi officials this week said more air strikes are needed to dislodge the militants, who are holed up in a vast complex of palaces built when Saddam Hussein was in power and have turned the city into a labyrinth of homemade bombs and booby-traps.

The coalition has been conspicuously absent from the campaign — the largest to be undertaken by Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militia groups since Daesh overran a third of the country last summer.

"We have not been asked by the Iraqi government to conduct air strikes in Tikrit," said the senior military official in the coalition, declining to speculate why. "We don't conduct any strikes without the request and agreement of the government of Iraq or the Kurdistan Regional Government."

More than 20,000 troops and Shiite militiamen are taking part in the offensive, which began more than two weeks ago, supported by a relatively small contingent of Sunni Muslim fighters from Tikrit and the surrounding area.

Having made steady progress towards Tikrit, retaking the surrounding towns before entering the city itself last week, the offensive has slowed and there have been no major advances since Friday.

Iraqi officials say there is no doubt they will prevail in Tikrit, but they have paused to await reinforcements, limit casualties in their ranks, and give remaining civilians one last chance to leave.

The senior military official in the coalition said it was "absolutely normal" that Iraqi forces should stop to regroup before a final assualt on the Sunni Islamist militants, now cornered in an area bounded by the river Tigris to the east.

Asked about the coalition's view on the involvement of Shiite militias in Tikrit and elsewhere, the senior official said it was up to Baghdad which forces took part.

"I think any force that is here and the government of Iraq uses in the fight against IS (Daesh) is a good thing," the official said. "It's been quite effective."

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