If there is an American-advised offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces sometime in the next couple months, recent actions will affect the operation.
First, ISIL forces launched what could be considered a spoiling attack:
Islamic State suicide bombers and fighters struck targets on Saturday in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, where security forces and their Shi'ite militia allies have been gathering for an offensive against the radical Sunni militants.
But the attack doesn't seem to have interfered with preparations for the Iraqi offensive north:
Iraq is deploying 27,000 troops to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State, in a mission that will test the military’s ability to stage major offensives against the group before trying to capture its stronghold in Mosul.
The state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television said that paramilitary forces, a term that usually describes Shiite militias, are backing up police and army soldiers. The forces will also seek to liberate other areas in the Salahuddin province, where Tikrit is located.
If successful, this will advance the jumping off point for an offensive aimed at Mosul. And it isn't calling on the troops earmarked for the Mosul attack, it seems, since the Tikrit offensive is based on Shia militias which we don't operate with (because of Iranian influence and concerns about their discipline).
While I don't like it that Iran is gaining influence by funding and organizing their local version of Hezbollah in Iraq, hopefully we kill two birds with one stone if the offensive uses pro-Iran Shia militias to fight ISIL jihadis.
The Iraqis are hoping local Sunni Arabs have tired of living under ISIL rule:
Iraq's prime minister called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the Islamic State group Sunday, ahead of a promised offensive to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown from the extremists.
Haider al-Abadi offered no timeline for an attack on Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad that fell into the hands of the Islamic State group last summer.
There is no word about when the attack will take place. It should be soon if this is to advance the jumping off point for the Mosul offensive in the spring.
And I'm still waiting to see what happens in Anbar where our Marines (and others, I assume) are also training Iraqi forces.
UPDATE: Moments later, I see that the offensive against Tikrit has begun.
I don't expect this to be pretty since basically two armed and fanatical mobs are going into battle.
The Iraqi mob will at least have some trained guys for support. But the ISIL mob has a lower degree of difficulty since they just need to hold and die in place within Tikrit.
UPDATE: We aren't providing air support because the Iraqis didn't ask us for it.
UPDATE: Actually, we aren't providing air support because this is an Iranian-led offensive and we don't want to be associated with any slaughters of Sunni Arab civilians:
No American air support is being used and the Americans say that is because Iraq did not request any. The real reason for no U.S. air support is the fact that this is an Iranian operation and if American smart bombs and missiles were used the Iranians would blame the Americans for any civilian casualties.
And there is this about the Iraqi Shia militia leading the attack on Tikrit:
Iran has trained these guys to think of this as a religious war, of Shia against fanatic Sunnis who see Shia as heretics to be murdered on sight. Iran has trained the militia to see this as a very personal battle in which death is martyrdom and as much a reward as victory. The problem is that ISIL trains their people the same way so the U.S. (and many Iraqi Army commanders) expects an epic bloodbath made even more horrific by mass murder of Sunni civilians.
In many ways, a higher body count among the pro-Iranian Shia fanatics and ISIL fanatics is ideal.
The one thing I'll say in caution about the force of fanaticism is that it will propel true believers to kill and die rather than surrender or retreat--right up until the moment when it doesn't and the true believers flee. Iran experienced that loss of morale in 1988 after looking like true believers since 1980 in their war with Iraq.
But you can't tell when that break will happen.
UPDATE: Actually, on reflection, this Iranian-led offensive could explain that controversial CENTCOM briefing on the Mosul offensive that we are planning.
Perhaps we didn't want to leave the impression that only Iran is on the job in Iraq.
And maybe we wanted to establish the wisdom of our deliberate approach if Iran leads a bloodbath offensive.
This is better than believing we had no idea that the Tikrit offensive was going to begin.