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Iraq militia chief at odds with regular army over Tikrit raid

Commander of Iraq's Badr Shiite militia says he does not need the help of US, and Iran general Soleimani is in Iraq 'whenever we need him'
Hadi al-Ameri, in Udhaim in Diyala province, north of the capital Baghdad, on 3 August, 2014 (AFP)

The commander of the Badr Shiite militia on Sunday criticised "weaklings" in the Iraqi army who want US-led air strikes to support the massive operation to retake Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) militants.

The remarks by Hadi al-Ameri point to a possible divide between the Iraqi army and allied paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation units, which are dominated by Shiite militia forces, over the now-stalled Tikrit drive.

"Some of the weaklings in the army... say we need the Americans, while we say we do not need the Americans," Ameri told journalists at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, when asked about US-led air support for taking back Tikrit.

Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a top commander in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital, told AFP that he had requested such strikes against the IS group and that they were needed.

But the Pentagon said that the Iraqi government has not made any request for air support for the Tikrit operation, which began on 2 March. 

Forces from the army, the police and a number of different militias are taking part in the operation, bringing different tactics, skill levels and willingness to take casualties to the fight.

It is unclear who if anyone has overall command of the operation, and disputes between the forces involved would hamper an effort that has already become bogged down by the huge number of bombs planted by IS in the city's streets and houses.

While pro-government forces were able to take control of towns near Tikrit and then surround it, fighting to clear the city itself proved much more difficult, and the operation has been halted and the IS fighters besieged.

Iran's Soleimani is in Iraq 'whenever we need'

Meanwhile, Ameri said that Qassem Soleimani, Iran's top officer responsible for foreign operations, provides assistance in Iraq "whenever we need him".

"He was giving very good advice. The battle ended now, and he returned to his operations headquarters," Ameri told journalists close to the Al-Alam area north of Baghdad.

He was apparently referring to the battle to retake the nearby city of Tikrit.

"Qassem Soleimani is here whenever we need him," said Ameri.

Ameri's remarks are a sign of the important role Soleimani plays in military operations in Iraq and the influence Tehran wields on Baghdad.

Soleimani has advised Iraqi forces in multiple operations against IS, and his face is widely known. Pictures of him are shared on social media, and he has even been the topic of music videos.

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