ARTICLE: Tikrit – Iraq’s Abandoned City
By Zaid Al-Ali, May 5, 2015
NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS: On June 11, 2014, Mahmoud, a sixty-year-old employee at a school in Tikrit, Iraq, drove home for his afternoon nap. Thirty minutes later, he received a frantic call from a friend in Baghdad who demanded to know if TV reports that ISIS had taken over the city were accurate. Mahmoud dismissed them; after all, he had noticed nothing unusual during his drive home; nor had he heard any gunfire or other commotion from his house, which was near the main road. As he drove back to his school, however, he was shocked to see ISIS fighters driving around unopposed. As he soon learned, a contingent of just thirty militants in seven vehicles had seized control in the time it took him to have his nap. Iraq’s security forces, on which 100 billion dollars of Iraq’s money had been spent between 2006 to 2014, had simply melted away.
Located on the Tigris about one hundred miles northwest of Baghdad, Tikrit was an orderly former Baathist stronghold that had avoided the worst of the country’s recent conflicts. But over the next nine months, ISIS would remake the entire city administration, massacre vast numbers of soldiers and tribesmen, and impose its own harsh strictures on everyone from women and civil servants to smokers and lawyers. By the time Iraqi forces backed by US warplanes finally retook the city on April 3, following nearly a month of fighting, Tikrit was a hollow shell of its former self, and almost all of its population of about 200,000 was displaced. In the weeks since the liberation, many are seeking answers to some vital questions: How did ISIS take over the city so quickly in the first place? And what does Tikrit’s experience reveal about the way ISIS rules?