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Iraqi forces push toward Tikrit’s center

The campaign to retake Tikrit, which began one week ago, is the biggest since ISIS swept across the north last year

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Iraqi forces jointly with tribesmen and Shiite volunteers started storming the ISIS-held city of Tikrit Tuesday from four sides in attempt to reach its center, sources told Al Arabiya News Channel.

The forces so far retook the building for Tikrit hospital located south of the city, the sources said.

Samara Operations Command told Al Arabiya News Channel that the hometown of the late President Saddam Hussein - currently occupied by ISIS militants – is “360 degrees surrounded.”

Members of ISIS have attempted to slow down advances made by the Iraqi army and militia towards Tikrit city center by blowing up a main bridge to the east of the city, a provincial council member has said.

In the Qadissya neighborhood the streets are littered with the bodies of ISIS fighters, according to local sources.

The campaign to retake Tikrit, which began one week ago, is the biggest since ISIS swept across the north last year, and the government hopes it will reverse the militants’ momentum.

The forces also took the center of a town on the northern edge of Tikrit from ISIS on Tuesday.

Al-Alam is the last ISIS stronghold that needs to be cleared before government forces and militiamen can enter the city of Tikrit itself, which has been under militant control since last summer.

Military commanders said ISIS militants were still holding out in houses in the northern section of al-Alam, but the army and mainly Shiite volunteers had retaken the town center and were preparing for street fighting to seize the rest.

“Snipers and booby traps are slowing our advance to completely control all parts of the town,” said army captain Wisam Ibrahim, speaking from al-Alam.

“We’re waiting for the army helicopters to secure the way for a smooth advance for the troops,” he said.

The battle for Tikrit its aftermath will inform any plans to move further north and recapture Mosul, the largest city under ISIS rule year, and the government hopes it will reverse the militants’ momentum.

ISIS has sent reinforcements to Tikrit from other parts of its self-proclaimed caliphate further north, where it came under attack on Monday from Kurdish forces around the oil-rich-city of Kirkuk.

In another blow to ISIS, Kurdish forces on Monday drove the Islamist militants back from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

Their advance was backed by heavy air strikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

(With Reuters)