PressTV: Iraqi forces liberate Tikrit center from ISIL hold

Iraqi volunteer fighters celebrate as they advance into Tikrit, 160 km north of Baghdad, during a military operation to regain the city from ISIL Takfiri militants, on March 11, 2015.  (AFP photo)

Iraqi volunteer fighters celebrate as they advance into Tikrit, 160 km north of Baghdad, during a military operation to regain the city from ISIL Takfiri militants, on March 11, 2015. (AFP photo)

Iraqi armed forced, backed by volunteer and tribal fighters, have liberated central parts of the Iraqi city of Tikrit with major government buildings now retaken from ISIL Takfiri militants.

A statement by Iraq’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday said major government buildings close to the city’s center have been retaken from ISIL terrorists.

Security officials said most of the ISIL militants in the city have begun retreating.

The advances on Wednesday came after nearly a week of heavy fighting for the liberation of the city, around 160 kilometers north of the capital Baghdad. Tikrit was one of the two major strongholds of ISIL in Iraq, the other being Mosul.

Iraqi forces managed to retake Tikrit’s military hospital located in al-Qadisiya neighborhood earlier in the day. A mop-up operation was launched to hunt down ISIL militants scattered across the city.

The operation includes a combined force of more than 30,000 fighters both from the Iraqi armed forces and volunteers, known as Popular Mobilization forces. It is the largest operation launched by the government to date and many see it as a prelude to recapturing the northern city of Mosul.

The operation is being assisted by Iranian military advisers who have made a huge contribution to similar offensives against the Takfiri militants. The US-led international coalition against ISIL has no role to play in the operation to retake Tikrit, although Iraqi officials have announced they would use the support of coalition airstrikes in the battle for Mosul.

Takfiris hemmed in

Speaking from near Tikrit, Press TV’s correspondent said fierce clashes are continuing between the terrorists and Iraqi forces, especially in the western parts of the city, where militants have a stronger presence.

The army’s advance in southern parts of the city has been faster, while other units are tightening the noose around the militants from the northern axis.

The Press TV reporter said the battle to liberate the entire city will not be an easy one as the ISIL militants are putting up a strong fight against Iraqi forces.

The operation to retake Tikrit began from four directions and the army tried to besiege the militants and cut off their supply lines. However, reports showed that the militants have managed to destroy a bridge east of the city, holding off the army’s advance on that front.

The Iraqis have all left the city, which is under the complete siege of the Iraqi army and volunteer forces.

“Tikrit has effectively become a prison for ISIL militants,” the Press TV correspondent said. The liberation of the hospital was a major gain for the Iraqi forces as the site was used by militants as a place to hold captive citizens.

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