IRBIL, Iraq: Iraq’s prime minister said Monday that “only” 152 homes and shops were burned in Tikrit, where pro-government forces have been accused of carrying out abuses after retaking the city last week.
Haider al-Abadi did not specify who burned the structures or when the fires took place, but pro-government militiamen have admitted to torching houses in other recaptured areas and allegedly did so in Tikrit.
“Only 67 houses and ... around 85 stores were burned, and it is a very small number for a city with a population of 100,000 people,” Abadi told a news conference in the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital Irbil.
He said those figures were confirmed by top officials including the governor and police chief of Salahuddin province.
Abadi said it was not fair to level the accusation at the entire force.
“There’s a small group that attempts to attach itself to the Popular Mobilization units and attack civilians and their belongings and offend the Popular Mobilization Forces,” Abadi said. “Our measures are to arrest these people and present them to court and we have indeed arrested.”
Columns of black smoke rose from burning homes and shops even as Abadi visited Tikrit last Wednesday to celebrate its recapture.
During the visit, pro-government militiamen looted and put graffiti on shops in central Tikrit while journalists looked on.
The premier’s office said Friday he had ordered security forces to “deal with cases of vandalism” in Tikrit, blaming it on “gangs” seeking to tarnish the achievements of government forces and their paramilitary allies.
During his visit to Irbil, Abadi pledged that Baghdad would work with Kurdish authorities to liberate the northern province of Ninevah from ISIS militants.
“Our visit to Irbil today is to coordinate and cooperate on a joint plan to liberate the people of Nineveh,” Abadi said at a news conference with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.
Abadi declined to lay out a timetable to retake Ninevah, of which Mosul is capital, in order not to lose the “element of surprise.”