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Iraqi forces halt operation to retake Tikrit

Posted on Aug 19 2014 | IANS

Baghdad, Aug 19 : Iraqi security forces Tuesday halted an offensive to retake control of the militant-held city of Tikrit, the capital of the Sunni-dominant province of Salahudin, due to heavy resistance by the militants, security sources said.

Earlier in the day, the troops entered Tikrit from three directions, but was forced to retreat after fierce clashes with the Sunni militants, including those who are linked to the Islamic State (IS) Sunni extremist group, an al-Qaida offshoot, a security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

After the withdrawal of the troops, sporadic clashes on the edges of the city and bombardment by artillery and aircraft continued, the source said.

Iraqi military spokesman Qasim Atta said in a live briefing on the state-run Iraqiya television that the battle was the "first page" of the offensive and the troops made "slow and gradual" push to seize their targets inside the city, as the militants planted bombs in all the roads leading to downtown city.

"The troops so far defused more than 40 landmines and roadside bombs, as militants booby-trapped all the areas in Tikrit," Atta said.

He said the troops achieved one of their goals when they seized the highway west of the city to secure the movement of the military vehicles from the south to north of the city in what he named "biting back the land".

In the early hours of the day, dozens of Iraqi military vehicles, backed by tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopter gunships advanced from three routes toward Tikrit, some 170 km north of Iraq's capital Baghdad, the provincial security source told Xinhua in earlier reports.

One of the routes was from the small town of Uoja, some 12 km south of Tikrit, which was the scene of fierce clashes in the past few days between the security forces backed by Shia militias and anti-government Sunni militant groups, including those who are linked to the IS.

The troops also advanced toward the city from Jillam area southwest of Tikrit and Deum area northwest of the city, the official added.

The offensive came after several failed attempts by the Iraqi security forces to retake control of Tikrit, the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein. The city has been under the control of Sunni militants since June 11.

Also in Salahudin province, Islamic State militants carried out an attack to seize the town of Duluiyah, some 90 km north of Baghdad, in the early morning hours, but were repelled by local Sunni tribal fighters and local police, leaving at least six militants killed, a provincial police source anonymously told Xinhua.

Meanwhile, Iraqi aircraft provided air support to Duluiyah tribesmen and local police with helicopter gunships carrying out airstrikes on a convoy of vehicles just north of Duluiyah, killing some 20 militants and destroying seven vehicles carrying heavy machine guns, the source said, adding that the convoy was carrying militants to attack the town.

During the past few weeks, al-Jubour tribal fighters in Duluiyah and the town's policemen have repelled many attacks by the IS militants which tried to capture the town.

The security situation began to drastically deteriorate in Iraq June 10 when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of IS militants, who took control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.

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