Iraqi army hails ‘magnificent victory’ in Tikrit

Iraq’s defense minister hailed victory over ISIS in the battle for Saddam Hussein's hometown

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Iraq’s defense minister said Wednesday that security forces have achieved a “magnificent victory” over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Tikrit.

Khalid al-Obeidi said Wednesday that security forces have “accomplished their mission” in the month-long offensive to rid Saddam Hussein’s hometown of the militant group, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. launched airstrikes last week in support of Iraqi ground forces. The battle for Tikrit, 130 kilometers north of Baghdad, is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the militants out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

On Tuesday, Iraqi forces and local tribes recaptured some areas southwest of Kirkuk city, a tribal council said after the country’s premier declared central Tikrit as free from ISIS militants.

“A force from Al-Obeid and Al-Jubour tribes this evening executed an unprecedented operation on the foothills of Hamrain Mountains located between Al-Fatha neighborhood and al-Rashad district (45 km southwest of Kirkuk,” a spokesman for the Salah al-Din province council, Marwan al-Jabareh, told the local Al-sumaria News.

He added: “The operation led to the liberation of Hamrain’s foothills and two villages facing Al-Ramil village part of Al-Rashad district after the killing 20 of the militants.”

Jabareh said the operation, which was done alongside the Popular Mobilization units -- pro-government paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias -- is going to continue until the area is fully liberated.

Earlier Tuesday, Iraqi troops aided by the Popular Mobilization units drove ISIS group out of central Tikrit, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said.

Abadi also vowed that the fight to retake all of Tikrit continued.

However, the New York Times on Tuesday said Tikrit was not recaptured yet, citing accounts from several people in the city while other top officials in Baghdad moderated the prime minister’s announcement, saying that while gains had been made in the city, the fight was continuing.

The U.S. Defense Department said it could confirm Iraqi security forces’ “advancement into Tikrit to liberate the city center as well as other parts of the city” from ISIS.

Government forces have been in a month-long fight for the city, which became a bastion for the Sunni jihadists who are at war with Baghdad and have been targeted by U.S.-led air strikes.

Hundreds of insurgents ready to fight to the death are still holed up in Salahuddin province’s capital city and at least three neighborhoods remain under Islamic State control, along with a palace complex in the city’s north, Reuters reported.

(With Reuters)