An Exclusive Report by Andrew Slater in The Daily Beast.
Before a shot was fired, rumors of ISIS led Iraqi forces to flee Tikrit. As Baghdad fights to retake the city, they’re up against a force made more powerful by the initial retreat.
Around 2 p.m. on Wednesday the 11th of June, ISIS forces entered the city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown, in a small vanguard of just 30 unarmored trucks without firing a shot. This underwhelming force was a far cry from the horde of ISIS fighters the soldiers and policemen of the city feared would come swarming out of the desert. That fear of ISIS had more to do with the fall of Tikrit, than anything the group actually did inside the city. Fear alone was enough to induce surrender and retreat.
In a province with tens of thousands of Iraq Security Forces, Tikrit, the provincial capital, was seized without a fight.
The story of ISIS’s advances in Iraq has been distorted from the start, colored by the group’s own self-serving mythology and by the Iraqi government’s attempts to conceal the rapid breakdown of its security forces. Just as ISIS has tried to claim sole credit for its victories, obscuring the role played by other members of the broad Sunni insurgency, they have exploited the Iraqi security forces failures as signs of their own strength.
The truth, revealed through interviews with locals and Iraqi security forces, is that the ISIS was far from invincible. The group might have been contained early on, before it advanced on Baghdad and foreign powers, including the U.S., were called to rescue Iraq, if the Iraqi security forces had been willing to fight. The collapse of Baghdad’s army has made ISIS vastly more powerful, every surrender moving the myth of ISIS’s strength closer to reality.
Testimony of police and local sources who witnessed the fall of Tikrit, reveals ISIS was far weaker than previously believed when they swept through the region as Iraqi Security Forces were on the verge of collapse before the offensive began. However, with the momentum of these past two weeks, the augmentation of ISIS by local fighters and prisoners released from anti-terrorism prisons, and the spoils gained from the remains of 7 collapsed Iraqi Army divisions what was once a far less substantial ISIS force is now a formidable conventional army. The ISIS force Baghdad now faces is far stronger than the one it failed to confront only weeks ago.
The account that follows, chronicling the fall of Tikrit and rise of ISIS relies on the testimony of an Iraqi police officer that served in the city and was privy to the decision-making and orders given by high ranking officers. He saw, from the inside, how the security forces began to come apart before any shots were fired. The Daily Beast also spoke with other Iraqis who gave their own stories of the ISIS advance. All of them, fearing reprisals from ISIS forces and their allies, asked that their names not be used to protect their safety.
Read more at The Daily Beast
Map of Iraq via Google Maps. Tikrit is located roughly halfway between Kirkuk in the north and Baghdad in center of the country, and just slightly northwest of Samarra.
The truth is almost always stranger than fiction.