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Gunships hit Tikrit sites in new assault

Government builds foothold in city as Isis militants dig in

by Our Foreign Desk

IRAQI gunships struck suspected insurgent positions in Tikrit today as part of a government offensive to retake former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home town from Sunni militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

The military launched its push to wrest back Tikrit on Saturday with a multipronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters. 

Security officials said that the army was co-ordinating its campaign with US advisers.

Tikrit is one of two major urban centres that fell to insurgents earlier this month during their lightning offensive across the country’s north and west.

The insurgents appeared to have repelled the military’s initial push for Tikrit and remained in control of the city yesterday, but clashes continued in the northern neighbourhood of Qadissiyah, which borders Tikrit’s university where troops established a bridgehead two days ago.

Military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said that the military was in full control of the university and had raised the Iraqi flag over the campus.

“The battle has several stages. The security forces have cleared most of the areas of the first stage and we have achieved results,” he said. 

“It is a matter of time before we declare the total clearing” of Tikrit, he added.

Jawad al-Bolani, a security official in the provincial operation command, said that the US was sharing intelligence with Iraq and had played an essential role in the offensive.

“The Americans are with us and they are an important part in the success we are achieving in and around Tikrit,” he declared.

Top Iranian military commander General Masoud Jazayeri said that Tehran was ready to send in any type of military assistance the Iraqi government forces need.

“Iran will never spare any help in any field that Iraq needs, even drones. … We are waiting to help them, in case Iraqi officials ask,” he told an Iranian TV station yesterday.

The government received a boost at the weekend with the arrival of five jet fighters bought second-hand from Russia.

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