Tikrit: Iraq’s Abandoned City

…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?…

…Few people realized that ISIS had been preparing for the takeover for several years. As early as 2011 and 2012, when jihadist groups were becoming increasingly active in the Syrian conflict, Tikriti businesses were threatened by Islamist militants who were extorting money for their activities in Syria…

…ISIS’s nine-month occupation of Tikrit was a disaster without precedent in the city’s modern history. Although the terrorist organization appears to have been uprooted for now, the circumstances that allowed its takeover—above all a decrepit and corrupt security administration and the failure to uphold the rule of law amid a sustained campaign of assassinations and extortion—still exist today.

Restoring order will be impossible until the city is able to restore security and hold criminals and terrorists to account. Meanwhile, many Tikritis, scattered in temporary housing in various parts of Iraq, have been reduced to wondering if they will ever be allowed to return home.