Government forces backed by allied Shia and Sunni fighters have begun a large-scale military operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
A force of 20,000 soldiers and fighters are trying to advance into Tikrit on Monday to force the armed group from the historic city and the surrounding Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad.
State-run Al-Iraqiya television said that forces were attacking Tikrit from different directions, backed by artillery and airstrikes by Iraqi fighter jets.
Iraqi security forces said they have now retaken control of al-Dour, including the countryside where former President Saddam Hussein was found hiding, Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, who is in Baghdad, reported.
“This is the first test for the Iraqi military,” she said.
The military commander of Salahuddin region, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, told state TV the operation was “going on as planned,” with fighting taking place outside Tikrit mainly on its eastern side.
On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi came to Samarra to rally the troops.
“Our goal is to liberate people from the oppression and terrorism of Daesh,” he said in a televised address on Tuesday, referring to the Arabic acronym used to describe ISIL fighters. He is now back in Baghdad to meet with members of parliament.
Tikrit, the provincial capital of Salauhddin province, 130km north of Baghdad, fell to ISIL last summer, along with the country’s second-largest city of Mosul and other areas in the country’s Sunni heartland.
Past attempts to retake Tikrit have failed, however, as Iraq struggles with its armed forces, which collapsed in the wake of ISIL offensive last summer.
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SOURCE: Al Jazeera