Iraqi forces enter IS-held Tikrit
Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militiamen have entered the Islamic State-held city of Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein.
Allied Iraqi forces entered Tikrit through its northern Qadisiyya neighbourhood, according to an official who said hidden bombs and snipers slowed the troops' progress.
Video obtained by The Associated Press showed troops and militiamen marching alongside Humvees flying Iraqi military and Shiite militia flags in the city.
Tikrit, the capital of Salahuddin province, lies about 80 miles north of Baghdad. It is one of the largest cities held by Islamic State militants and lies on the road connecting Baghdad to Mosul. Retaking it will give Iraqi forces a major supply link to retake Mosul.
Iranian military advisers have been helping guide Iraqi forces. The US says its allied coalition carrying out airstrikes targeting the extremists have not been involved in the Tikrit offensive.
US military officials have that said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, is likely to begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops. But the Americans have cautioned that if the Iraqis are not ready, the offensive could be delayed.
On Tuesday, Iraqi forces retook the town of Alam on the outskirts of Tikrit. They also sealed off Tikrit to prepare for an offensive inside the city. Hidden bombs and snipers had slowed the troops' progress.
Iraqi government officials touted the high morale of Iraqi security forces going into the Tikrit operation, particularly after liberating Beiji, home to Iraq's largest refinery, in November. But the battle for Tikrit is likely to involve street-to-street fighting, something Iraqi forces have struggled with in the past.
Iranian military advisers have been helping guide Iraqi forces in their advance on Tikrit. Among those directing operations is Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the powerful Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force.
The US says its allied coalition carrying out airstrikes targeting the extremists has not been involved in the ongoing Tikrit offensive. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has appealed for more aid for the country's beleaguered ground forces, which have yet to score a decisive victory against the Islamic State group despite seven months of US-led coalition air raids.
Most of the battlefield successes in Iraq have been coordinated efforts, with Iraqi and Kurdish forces and Shiite militias fighting on the ground and the US-led coalition providing air power. The siege on the village of Amirli just north of Baghdad, when many feared the capital itself might fall, was broken last year with the help of US-led airstrikes and a fighting force of mainly Shiite militias.
Shiite militiamen backed by a coalition air campaign also retook the town of Jurf al-Sukhr, on Baghdad's outskirts, from the militants in October.