The Iraqi army has launched an assault to retake the rebel-held city of Tikrit, security officials said.
The operation on Tuesday is part of a two-and-a-half week long Iraqi offensive aimed at taking back the city, which fell to Sunni rebels led by the Islamic State group in June.
Iraqi state TV said security forces had successfully expelled Sunni rebels from the city and were in “complete control” of the area. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said officials were “very confident” about the claim.
Since the start of the Sunni rebellion led by the Islamic State group in June, both the government and the fighters have made conflicting claims of control over several towns, which are difficult to independently verify.
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Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq have defended their territory against the rebels.
Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, told Al Jazeera that he warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki that Sunni rebels were advancing, but his offer to help was ignored, he said.
“Six months ago I informed the Iraqi Prime Minister that the situation is deteriorating, especially in Mosul, it is dangerous. We offered to cooperate and have a joint operation to push this threat out of the area. But he didn’t pay any attention to what I said,” said Barzani.
“Instead of thanking Kurdish auhorities and negotiating a way to resolve the situation they attacked us,” he added.
The army has been saying for a fortnight that its forces are on the outskirts of the city, which lies 160km north of Baghdad.
The city is a stronghold of loyalists of former president, Saddam Hussein, and ex-army officers who joined forces with the Islamic State group to take over large parts of north and west Iraq last month.
Iraqi soldiers told the Reuters news agency that the military attacked from the village of Awja, about 8km south of the city.
The army retook Awja, the birthplace of Saddam, on the night of July 3, and has been trying to push north since.
Heavy fighting broke out in the Shishin district of southern Tikrit, they said.
Government forces retreated when Sunni rebels overran Mosul on June 10 and swept south to seize Tikrit two days later.
Shia armed groups are now fighting alongside soldiers and police,but there have been few notable victories for government forces since they began a campaign late last month to seize back territory.