11 March 2015
Last updated at 16:01
Iraqi government forces have retaken a large part of north-western Tikrit as they battle IS militants to recapture the city, security officials say.
Soldiers and Shia militiamen have reportedly raised the Iraqi flag at a hospital in the Qadisiya district, two-thirds of which is under their control.
But they have so far not made much progress in Tikrit’s south and west.
The operation to retake the hometown of Saddam Hussein is the biggest offensive yet by the Iraqi government.
Iran is helping to co-ordinate the 30,000 soldiers and militiamen involved, who are not being supported by US-led coalition air strikes
IS captured Tikrit last June after the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of a lightning advance by the group across northern and western Iraq.
On Wednesday, a security official at the Samarra Operations Command in Salahuddin province told the BBC that government forces had entered north-eastern Tikrit after 10 days of heavy fighting in towns and villages along the Tigris river to the north and south.
He said soldiers and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation (Hashid Shaabi) militiamen now controlled two-thirds of Qadisya, Tikrit’s largest district, and had raised the Iraqi flag at the nearby military hospital.
Iran is helping to co-ordinate the operation, which is not backed by the US-led coalition
It is not clear how many soldiers and militiamen have been killed or wounded in the offensive
Raed al-Jubouri, the governor of Salahuddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital, also announced that the “purging” of the Qadisiya district was under way.
The security official added that government forces had earlier retaken the village of Samra, to the north-east, meaning they now had complete control of al-Alam district.
But he cautioned that clashes were still taking place in the south of Qadisiya and the government forces had failed to make any progress elsewhere in the city.
The Reuters news agency reported that the advance in Qadisiya stalled when troops came under fire from snipers and had to pause to defuse roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings.
The official at the Samarra Operations Command also said an assault had been launched from the motorway west of Tikrit towards the al-Hayakil and al-Diyum districts, and the city’s industrial zone.
On Tuesday, officials said IS militants had bombed a bridge over the Tigris leading to al-Alam to slow the advance of government forces.
The US-led coalition says it has not carried out air strikes in support of the offensive because the Iraqi authorities have not requested them.
Government forces took full control of the town of al-Alam, north of Tikrit, on Tuesday
The offensive on Tikrit is the first attempt to push out IS from a major urban centre in Iraq
There are reportedly concerns about the overt involvement of the Iranian military in the operation, with top Revolutionary Guards commander Gen Qasem Soleimani allegedly overseeing it.
But speaking in Washington, US Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “The activities of the Iranians to support the Iraqi security forces is a positive thing in military terms against [IS].”
“But we are all concerned about what happens after the drums stop beating and [IS] is defeated, and whether the government of Iraq will remain on a path to provide an inclusive government for all of the various groups within it. We are very concerned about that.”
There have been fears that Shia militiamen fighting alongside government forces will carry out reprisals for the massacre by IS fighters and allied Sunni tribesmen of at least 700 soldiers, most of them Shia, at nearby Camp Speicher in June.
The offensive on Tikrit is the first attempt to push out IS from a major urban centre in Iraq, and is seen as a test for a planned operation to retake Mosul, the largest city in the north.
US military officials have said that the assault on Mosul will likely begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops, but have said it could be delayed if government forces are not ready.
- The Popular Mobilisation (Hashid Shaabi), comprising dozens of Shia militia, takes a lead role in Iraqi operations against IS
- It was formed by the Shia-led government in June 2014 after the army collapsed in the face of an advance by IS across northern Iraq
- Thousands volunteered to fight after Iraq’s most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called on people to take up arms and defend their country and its holy sites
- Iran provides funding, weapons and military advisers to militia in the Popular Mobilisation, and reportedly controls several of them directly
- The Popular Mobilisation is headed by Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, a former Badr Organisation commander who is close to Iranian General Qassem Soleimani
- Militiamen have been accused of committing atrocities and acting with impunity. Activists say Sunni Arab civilians have been forced from their homes, kidnapped, and in some cases summarily killed