Iraq launches push for mil­i­tant- held north­ern city

The Covington News - - THE WIRE -

BAGH­DAD (AP) — Iraqi troops backed by he­li­copter gun­ships launched an oper­a­tion early Satur­day aimed at dis­lodg­ing Sunni mil­i­tants from the north­ern city of Tikrit, one of two ma­jor ur­ban cen­ters they seized in re­cent weeks in a dra­matic blitz across the coun­try.

Af­ter watch­ing much of Iraq slip out of govern­ment hands, mil­i­tary of­fi­cials sought to por­tray the push that be­gan be­fore dawn as a sig­nif­i­cant step that puts the army back on the of­fen­sive. They said the oper­a­tion in­cludes com­man­dos, tanks and he­li­copters, as well as pro-govern­ment Sunni fighters and Shi­ite vol­un­teers.

Tikrit res­i­dents re­ported clashes on the out­skirts of the city and to the south, but the ex­tent of the fight­ing was un­clear.

Jawad al-Bolani, a se­cu­rity of­fi­cial in the Salahud­din Oper­a­tion Com­mand, said the im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tive is Tikrit, the home­town of for­mer dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein and one of two ma­jor cities to fall to the al-Qaida break­away Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant and al­lied Sunni mil­i­tants. He said there was no con­crete time­line for the oper­a­tion to con­clude.

He­li­copter gun­ships con­ducted airstrikes be­fore dawn on in­sur­gents who were at­tack­ing troops at a univer­sity cam­pus on Tikrit's north­ern out­skirts, Iraqi mil­i­tary spokesman Lt. Gen. Qas­sim al-Mous­sawi said. There was no im­me­di­ate word on ca­su­al­ties.

Govern­ment troops es­tab­lished a bridge­head on the sprawl­ing cam­pus early Fri­day af­ter be­ing fer­ried in by he­li­copter.

A se­nior se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said there were spo­radic clashes around the Univer­sity of Tikrit, as well as south of the city. Iraqi forces, which are mov­ing north to­ward Tikrit from the shrine city of Sa­marra, are mak­ing slow progress, he said on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to brief the me­dia.

Tikrit res­i­dents reached by tele­phone con­firmed that air raids took place at the univer­sity around dawn Satur­day.

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