BAGHDAD — Shiite militia leaders claimed Monday to have received reassurances from Iraq’s prime minister that there would be no more U.S.-led airstrikes on Tikrit, opening the way for their fighters to return to the battlefield.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with leaders of Iraq’s “popular mobilization units” Sunday night to discuss the ground offensive to reclaim Tikrit from Islamic State militants, his spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said. He also said that a final decision on the strikes had not been reached.
Any decision to halt the strikes to allow forces dominated by Shiite militiamen to march into Tikrit is likely to rile Washington, which has been wary of being perceived as aiding the Iranian-backed paramilitary groups. It would mean that the airstrikes had essentially been used to ease the militiamen’s path into the city, after their initial offensive stalled two weeks ago.
Iraq has struggled to stem the internal fallout from requesting the U.S.-led strikes in the battle. Iraqi field commanders had raised concerns about a lack of force after the popular mobilization units — loose affiliations of largely Shiite militias and volunteers that are fighting the Islamic State and are hostile to the United States — refused to fight in Tikrit under American air cover.
Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militias, and Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, were present at Sunday’s meeting, according to their representatives.
Ahmed al-Asadi, an Iraqi lawmaker and a spokesman for the popular mobilization units, who also attended the meeting, said that the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kitaeb Imam Ali militias would resume fighting.
“The prime minister has promised us there will be a stop to coalition airstrikes,” said Naim al-
Abboudi, an Asaib spokesman. “He realized this battle can’t be finished without the mobilization, so we are preparing to rejoin the troops.”
Moeen al-Kadhimi, the head of the popular mobilization committee on Baghdad’s provincial council, said Abadi had reassured the militia leaders that the coalition had finished its strikes against pre-planned targets. Kadhimi also said that the militias had begun on Monday to prepare their fighters for the front lines. “It’s our country, and we should liberate it,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Sunday , the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps accused a U.S. drone of killing two of its advisers in an airstrike in Tikrit on March 23.
No airstrikes were conducted in or near the city by the U.S.-led coalition that day, Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement. “We have no reason to believe this claim is true,” he said.