Iraqi forces advance on ISIL strongholds in Tikrit

Fierce battles raging as troops and allied fighters launch push to retake key city on the Tigris river.

Iraqi government forces and their allied fighters are continuing to advance towards the centre of Tikrit as part of a major offensive to recapture the strategic city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Army and militia fighters captured part of Tikrit’s northern Qadisiya district, the provincial governor said on Wednesday, while in the south of the city, a security officer said another force made a rapid push towards the centre.

Video obtained by the AP news agency showed troops and Shia militiamen marching alongside Humvees flying Iraqi military and Shia miltia flags in the city.

RELATED: The risks of mishandling the Tikrit offensive

ISIL fighters stormed into Tikrit last June during an offensive in which they captured large swathes of northern Iraq.

They have since used the complex of palaces built in Tikrit under Saddam Hussein, the executed former president, as their headquarters.

More than 20,000 troops and Shia militias, supported by local Sunni tribes, launched the offensive for Tikrit 10 days ago, advancing from the east and along the banks of the Tigris river.

On Tuesday they took the town of al-Alam on the northern edge of Tikrit, paving the way for an attack on the city itself.

Analysis: Liberators or Invaders?
undefined  The Iraqi armed forces and the Popular Mobilisation Forces offensive to retake Tikrit from ISIL is as strategically significant as it is politically charged.
Strategically, Tikrit will prove to be a test of wills and a preview of future battles. How the fight goes and how it ends will have major ramifications on the rest or Iraq, most notably the fight for Mosul.
Taking over Tikrit will prove costly, especially to its resident who fought bravely and suffered gravely during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Its association with the former leader, Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, does not go unnoticed.
    Click here to read the full analysis by Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera senior political analyst

The Tikrit Military Hospital was one of the latest key installations re-captured from ISIL fighters on Wednesday.

Government troops have also reportedly taken control of the oil fields in al-Ojail, another town near Tikrit.

Villages ‘destroyed’

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Sulaymaniyah, said on Wednesday: “The word is that while the Iraqi army is indeed in Tikrit, they have not yet managed to control the entire city.

“What they’ve done is clear the way to the city and clear surrounding areas.

“What we’re hearing is really quite a lot of concern about the damage that is being done and could be done … There are reports coming from politicians chatting to their constituencies that entire villages have essentially been destroyed along the way.”

Our correspondent said those reports could not be independently verified. 

The Iraqi government is hoping that a victory in Tikrit will help persuade Sunnis in other places to rise up against ISIL as the operation proceeds further north into Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIL on Wednesday launched a coordinated attack on government-held areas of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, involving seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs, police say.

At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded in Wednesday’s attack, according to initial reports by police and hospital sources in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies