After two days of little activity on the battlefield, Iraq’s interior minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, confirmed Monday that the offensive has “temporarily stopped.” The steady flow of coffins arriving in Iraq’s Shiite holy city of Najaf suggests a reason for the pause; cemetery workers say as many as 60 war dead have been arriving each day.
Since last week, Iraqi forces have hemmed in the Sunni militants in Tikrit, claiming control of the majority of the former Islamic State stronghold. But the operation has come at a cost, with soldiers saying the fight has been tougher than expected. As the momentum has slowed, some Iraqi officials have begun to publicly call for U.S.-led air support.
While Iraqi officials still express confidence that they can retake the city, the stuttering offensive does not bode well for the more complex battles for the city of Mosul and for militant-held areas of Anbar province that were expected to begin in coming months.
“It’s a furious fight, harder than we thought,” said Taher Sabah, a 25-year-old militiaman with the Shiite Badr Organization, who arrived in Najaf on Sunday to lay his father to rest after he was killed near Tikrit the night before.