According to an article in The Washington Post, the lack of Iraqi defensive preparations in the city may make taking Tikrit easier than previously thought.
“If Tikrit falls and is like other cities that we’ve gone into and there’s an end to any presence of the regime and no more control by the regime and the removal of military forces that’s just one more city. There may be still other areas,” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said at a U.S. Central Command briefing Saturday.
“Tikrit is not the only place where we believe there is a presence of regime forces or regime leaders or regime activities. So there would still be work to be done beyond that,” Brooks continued.
He added that the United States also had objectives other than overthrowing Saddam, notably ending Iraq’s ability to produce nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
“There are a number of objectives that were laid out at the beginning of this operation. We still have a tremendous amount of work to do in the weapons of mass destruction program,”Brooks said. “We still remain convinced that they are present inside of the country and we will find them. It’s going to take time. Tikrit is not related to those conclusions.”
With the collapse of Saddam’s government in Baghdad and the surrender without a fight by his forces in Mosul, all eyes are now turned on Tikrit, a town of 200,000 people 110 miles north of the capital.
Saturday’s Washington Post reported that video taken by a U.S. Predator drone found no troop buildups or other preparations for defending Tikrit.
“Just like everybody else I thought this would be the last stand,” Lt. Col. David Pere, senior watch officer at the Marine headquarters in the Iraqi desert, told the Post Friday. “But I don’t think there’s a last stand left.”
Other experts caution that the years of preferential treatment towards the residents of Tikrit may cause them to stand by Saddam Hussein to the end.
“These are Saddam’s tribe. They may decide to go down with the ship because they know if they surrender they may not be treated kindly,” Larry Korb, a former U.S. assistant defense secretary, told Reuters.
U.S.-led forces have been bombarding Tikrit for weeks, hammering away at what are thought to be among the strongest Republican Guard positions yet seen in Iraq.
Bruno Tertrais, senior fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said the last battle of the war could be difficult. “[It] may be a semi-suicidal act by the last defenders of the Iraqi regime.”