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Iraq pulls Shia militias from Tikrit amid reports of looting, arson, executions

The Iran-backed Shia militias made up at least two thirds of the force that captured Tikrit from the Islamic State.

By
Fred Lambert
Iraqi soldiers and Shia volunteers are seen as they fight Islamic State (IS) militants, in Tikrit, northern Iraq, on April 1, 2015, a day after the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the strategic city from the Islamic State. Reports on April 4 accused Shia militia of looting and Iraqi police of executing captured IS militants, while mobs reportedly burned hundreds of homes in the city. Photo by Alaa Mohamed/UPI
Iraqi soldiers and Shia volunteers are seen as they fight Islamic State (IS) militants, in Tikrit, northern Iraq, on April 1, 2015, a day after the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the strategic city from the Islamic State. Reports on April 4 accused Shia militia of looting and Iraqi police of executing captured IS militants, while mobs reportedly burned hundreds of homes in the city. Photo by Alaa Mohamed/UPI | License Photo

TIKRIT, Iraq, April 4 (UPI) -- Iraq is reportedly withdrawing Shia militias from Tikrit three days after the city's capture amid reports of looting, arson and executions of enemy combatants.

The birthplace of late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Tikrit remains largely empty after Iraqi security forces -- bolstered by Iran-supported Shia militias and U.S. airstrikes -- captured the Islamic State-controlled city on April 1 after a month of fighting.

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Iraqi soldiers told the BBC that IS forces, which have now reportedly been pushed 27 miles away, boobytrapped several buildings with improvised explosive devices before retreating.

Locals say Shia militias making up the Popular Mobilisation (Hasid Shaabi) force -- which accounts for at least two-thirds of the 30,000-strong contingent the Iraqi government sent to Tikrit in early March -- have looted government buildings and stolen vehicles.

Local Sunni politicians and security officials say mobs have burned hundreds of homes in the city, while reports have arisen of Iraqi police executing an Egyptian IS fighter before a crowd and Shia paramilitaries dragging the corpse of another IS fighter behind a truck.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi ordered the arrest of looters and for the paramilitaries to withdraw to positions outside of Tikrit Saturday after meeting with officials from Salahuddin province. Government officials have reportedly blamed the looting and violence on local Sunni tribal fighters.

After committing to the Tikrit assault on March 1, al-Abadi originally refused assistance from coalition air-power, but IS forces in the city repositioned and entrenched. Concern over heavy casualties prompted al-Abadi to pause for several weeks before requesting -- and receiving -- U.S. air support.

"To be clear, the coalition is only coordinating with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces; we do not coordinate our operations in any way with Iran or Iranian-backed militias," U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said on March 25.

Last month the Iraqi military said it would withdraw Shia militias from Tikrit, but the process moved slowly, according to The New York Times, since the militiamen's willingness to fight generally outweighed that of the regular army.

"They need us here," The Times quoted a Shia militiaman from the Qataba Brigade as saying on March 28.

First falling to IS forces in June of last year, Tikrit is seen as a vital stepping stone to seizing the larger, strategically important city of Mosul, where thousands of Iraqi soldiers dropped weapons and shed uniforms before running from a numerically inferior force of several hundred IS fighters last summer.

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