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Allied Sunni and Shiite fighters have joined with the Iraqi armed forces in a large-scale attempt to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown from the militant group.
Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni and Shiite fighters launched a large-scale operation to retake the city of Tikrit from the hands of ISIS militants Monday, according to Iraqi state TV.
The operation to take the city — which is the hometown and onetime stronghold of the country’s former dictator Saddam Hussein — is part of a wider campaign to retake a large swath of northern Iraqi territory held by ISIS, the Associated Press said.
Tikrit — located 80 miles north of Baghdad — was one of several areas in northern Iraq that fell into ISIS hands last summer, along with the county’s second largest city, Mosul. It remains one of the largest cities the group holds.
So far, Iraqi security forces have been unable to take Tikrit — which lies in a strategically important position that could pave the way to the eventual recapture of Mosul — but they recently were able to seize the nearby refinery town of Beijji with the help of airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, AP reported.
The Al-Iraqiya TV station had said security forces were attacking Tikrit from different directions earlier on Monday, and had managed to dislodge militants from some parts of the city’s outskirts with the help of artillery and Iraqi airstrikes, according to AP. No further details had been given several hours into the operation.
The station said that an umbrella group of Shia militiamen known as the the Popular Mobilization Forces are among those assisting in the operation, the BBC reported.
The BBC’s correspondent in the region estimated that around 4,500 militiamen are taking part in the offensive.