The Iraqi army retook Saddam Hussein’s home village overnight, a symbolic victory in its struggle to seize back swathes of the country from Sunni insurgents.
Backed by helicopter gunships and helped by Shia volunteers, the army recaptured the village of Awja in an hour-long battle on Thursday night, according to state media, police and local inhabitants.
Awja lies 8 km south of Tikrit, a city that remains in rebel hands since Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), launched a lightning assault across northern Iraq last month.
The offensive to retake Tikrit began on June 28, but the army has still failed to retake the city which fell after the police and army imploded last month in the face of the militant onslaught that also captured Mosul and other major Sunni areas.
Iraq’s premier insisted Friday he would “never give up” on a third term despite allegations at home and abroad of sectarianism and authoritarianism amid a sweeping jihadist-led offensive.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks came after a farcical parliament session in which Iraq’s various factions —many of which strongly oppose Maliki staying in power — failed to unite and choose a speaker of parliament, sparking criticism from the international community and the country’s top Shiite religious leader.
Appeal of UK Imams
More than 100 Islamic prayer-leaders from various denominations of Sunni and Shia Muslims have signed a letter calling on British Muslims not to travel to Iraq or Syria to fight.
“We urge the British Muslim communities to continue the generous and tireless efforts to support all of those affected by the crisis in Syria and unfolding events in Iraq, but to do so from the UK in a safe and responsible way,” the open letter, said.