Iraq moves against Islamic State in Tikrit
IRAQ has launched a military operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS), Iraqi TV says.
Local media reported that forces were attacking the city, backed by airstrikes from Iraqi fighter jets.
Tikrit lies 150km (95 miles) north of the capital Baghdad and was seized by IS militants in June 2014.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met military leaders in Salahuddin province ahead of the advance.
He offered to pardon all Sunni tribal fighters who abandoned IS, describing it as a “last chance”.
Al-Iraqiya TV said that IS militants had been dislodged from some areas outside Tikrit but this has not been confirmed.
It added that Iraqi police and militiamen from the Popular Mobilization Forces were advancing into Tikrit as airstrikes hit IS strongholds.
The BBC’s Ahmed Maher in Iraq says that government forces say they are 5km away from the heart of the city, but this has not been confirmed from independent sources.
Our correspondent says that regaining control of Tikrit would be a boost to government forces ahead of the larger battle for the recapture of the city of Mosul, which is also controlled by IS.
Mr Abadi declared the start of the operation late on Sunday, as tens of thousands of troops and militia gathered in the central town of Samarra in preparation for the offensive.
Mr al-Abadi called on those “who have been misled or committed a mistake to lay down arms and join their people and security forces in order to liberate their cities”.
He added that the city of Tikrit would soon return to its people.
Tikrit, hometown of former President Saddam Hussein, was the second major gain for IS after the group captured the city of Mosul in June last year.
IS militants hold several areas of Salahuddin, a predominantly Sunni Muslim province.
Mosul was home to more than a million people when it fell to IS after the militants launched an offensive in northern Iraq that saw it seize large swathes of the country.
Soldiers and allied Shia militiamen have now begun to recapture territory from IS north of Baghdad, with the help of US-led coalition air strikes.
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