Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias launched a ground offensive against Daesh on Monday to retake Tikrit city, Iraqi army and government sources said
The ground offensive, which aims to seize control of Tikrit city located 140 km northwest of Baghdad, is considered a step towards retaking control of ISIL’s stronghold of Mosul.
"The Iraqi army and its loyal fighters entered al-Qadisiyyah neighborhood 5 km north of Tikrit and advanced in al-Diyom neighborhood 2 km west of Tikrit," Jasim Mohamed, vice president of Saladin province’s council, told The Anadolu Agency.
"The Iraqi security forces are close to freeing al-Alam town located 10 km east of Tikrit and have freed the residential area of al-Dour town near Tikrit," Mohamed said.
The Iraqi security forces backed by al-Hashid al-Sha’bi Shiite militias and Iraqi air forces launched attacks on three hubs in Tikrit. U.S.-led coalition air force support was absent.
Qasem Soleimani, the chief commander of the Quds Force, an elite branch of the Revolutionary Guard which specializes in operations outside Iran, arrived in Iraq on Saturday to lead the military operation against ISIL, Iranian Fars News Agency (FNA), said Monday.
Soleimani's mission is to provide military advice in Tikrit’s ground offensive of 27,000 Iraqi soldiers, according to FNA.
Iraqi army officials refused to verify Soleimani's presence in Iraq to AA.
"The Iraqi security forces and al-Hashid al-Sha’bi freed Tal al-Fadli and Abu Shawareb areas south of Tikrit," a senior Iraqi police source told AA.
Iraqi forces freed more than 100 people who were captured by Daesh in a residential area in southern Tikrit and killed Hamed al-Sab’ al-Badri, ISIL’s commander of the residential area.
Tikrit’s southern entry is controlled by al-Hashid al-Sha’bi and the Iraqi central police and a large group of ISIL members surrendered in north eastern Samarra, a source from al-Hashid al-Sha’bi told AA.
Iraqi security forces killed 19 ISIL militants in al-Baghdadi district in Anbar province Tuesday, General Major Diyaa Kazim Dabous, from the Iraqi army, told AA.
Iraq has been gripped by a security vacuum since June 2014 when ISIL militants stormed the northern province of Mosul and declared a self-styled caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria.