Iraq receives Russian jets as it battles militants

2014-06-29 14:35
(Mohammed Sawaf, AFP)

(Mohammed Sawaf, AFP)

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Baghdad - Iraq received the first batch of Sukhoi warplanes from Russia as it pressed a counter-attack on Sunday against a Sunni militant onslaught that threatens to tear the country apart.

Witnesses reported waves of government air strikes on Sunday on the city of Tikrit, overrun by the insurgents when they swept across vast areas of north and west Iraq earlier this month.

World leaders, alarmed by the pace of the reverses in Iraq, have meanwhile urged a speeding up of government formation following April's general election, warning that the conflict, driven by sectarian divides, cannot be resolved militarily.

Insurgency

The newly-purchased Su-25 aircraft are expected to be pressed into service as soon as possible, bolstering Iraq's air power as it combats the insurgency that has killed more than 1 000 people and sparked a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands displaced.

An Iraqi official said that pilots from executed dictator Saddam Hussein's air force would fly the planes.

Su-25s are designed for ground attack, meaning they will be useful for Iraqi forces trying to root out militants, led by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, from a string of towns and cities they have seized.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Thursday announced that Baghdad was buying more than a dozen Sukhoi aircraft from Russia in a deal that could be worth up to $500m.

While Washington has begun sending military advisers to help Iraqi commanders and is flying armed drones over Baghdad, Iraqi officials have voiced frustration that multi-billion dollar deals for US-made F-16s and Apache helicopters have not been expedited.

Iraqi forces have for days been pressing a campaign to retake Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, which fell to the militants on June 11.

Iraqi air strikes

On Sunday, Iraqi aircraft carried out strikes in various areas in central Tikrit, and Saddam's palace compound in the city, witnesses said, a clear sign that militants are still holed up in the city.

Thousands of soldiers, backed by tanks and bomb disposal units, have been engaged in the major operation aimed at retaking the city.

According to Maliki's security spokesperson, Iraqi forces are co-ordinating with US advisers in "studying important targets".

Also Sunday, fighters backed by the Kurdish peshmerga force were advancing on the Shi'ite-majority village of Basheer, south of Kirkuk that was taken over by militants during the offensive, officials said.

Maliki's security spokesperson has said hundreds of soldiers have been killed since the insurgent offensive was launched on 9 June, while the UN puts the overall death toll at over 1 000, mostly civilians.


Read more on:    is  |  isil  |  nuri al-maliki  |  russia  |  iraq
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