21 Mar 2015 – Iraqi forces, substantially bolstered by Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are commanded by Suleimani, launched an offensive on March 2 to capture the Iraqi city of Tikrit from ISIS. Tikrit is a predominantly Sunni city and the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. According to Pentagon officials, the offensive has stalled as the battle has digressed into street fighting and the Iraqi forces face logistical issues.
Iraqi forces and Shiite militias have reportedly carried out atrocities in Tikrit, murdering and torturing their prisoners and posing with their severed heads. Houses in the village of Albu Ajil, outside of Tikrit, have been burned down, allegedly by the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. The Shiite militias’ brutality is not new: they have been accused of massacring 72 unarmed Sunnis in the village of Barwanah in January. An ABC News story last week detailed some of the crimes that have been committed by Iraqi forces and militias, including massacres of civilians, executions, and torture. Human Rights Watch reported on Wednesday that Iranian-backed militias destroyed thousands of Sunnis’ houses after capturing the Iraqi town of Amerli from ISIS last summer. James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, estimated that Iranian-backed militias were responsible for up to one-quarter of American casualties during the Iraq War.
In addition to Iraq, Iran has also expanded its influence in Syria, by actively backing Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that has claimed more than 210,000 lives, and in Yemen, through the Houthi militia, which overthrew the U.S.-allied Yemeni government in February. Iran appears to be preparing a front along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights, where it has assisted Hezbollah in building terror infrastructure.