Fierce clashes around Tikrit

fierceFierce clashes are taking place around the Iraqi city of Tikrit, as soldiers and militiamen attack Islamic State positions in the centre, officials say.

Battles were reported in the suburb of al-Dour, the western al-Zuhur district, the northern area of Qadisiya, and near the Teaching Hospital in the south.

But the government advance has been slowed by roadside bombs planted by IS.

Iranian commanders are helping to co-ordinate the operation, which is not backed by US-led coalition air strikes.

Iraqi Air Force helicopters and warplanes have conducted strikes since the offensive was launched on Sunday, but it is unclear whether Iranian aircraft have also been involved.

A security source in the Samarra Operations Command in Salahuddin province told the BBC that the Iraqi army personnel and members of the Popular Mobilisation Force, made up of Iranian-backed Shia militia, were engaged in fierce battles on the outskirts of Tikrit on Tuesday.

The BBC’s James Robbins: “It’s the biggest fightback yet against so-called Islamic State”

Clashes were taking place near the police station in al-Dour, a village to the south of the city that troops were reported to have entered on Monday afternoon, the source added.

Inside Tikrit, government forces were attacking IS positions in al-Zuhur, Qadisiya and the area around the Teaching Hospital, which is being bombarded by artillery and aircraft.

The source at the Samarra Operations Command also reported that Hamrin district, 20km (12 miles) east of al-Dour, had been re-captured.

During the battle, there were two attempted suicide car bomb attacks by IS militants. The militants were shot,­ and their vehicles exploded before reaching the troops.

IS announced separately on Tuesday that a US national who used the nom de guerre Abu Dawud al-Amriki had carried out a suicide attack in Salahuddin province.

A militia commander told the BBC that progress inside Tikrit had been slowed by the large number of roadside bombs planted on main roads by IS militants since they seized Saddam Hussein’s hometown in June.

Moen al-Kadhimi, a leader of the Popular Mobilisation force, said its fighters were advancing carefully.

“We’re not in a rush to end the Tikrit operation,” he added. “We’re very careful in our planning, especially because the IS military strategy is based on planting explosive devices on the roads, in houses, everything… even lamp posts.”

“The other key strategy is the use of snipers. This is because they’re not ready to fight us face-to-face.”Mr Kadhimi also played down reports that Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was co-ordinating the offensive.

–BBC

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