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Iraqi Forces Fight To Retake Tikrit

June 29, 2014

Iraqi government forces have continued an offensive to retake a northern city from Sunni rebels.

Reports said helicopters struck at rebel positions and clashes broke out in various parts of Tikrit on June 29, a day after troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships launched their operation to retake the city.

Iraqi government troops were said to be advancing toward Tikrit from Samarra, a city along the banks of the Tigris River and site of an important Shi'ite shrine.

As night fell on June 28, it was unclear who was in control of Tikrit.

The governor of Salah al-Din Province, Ahmad Abdullah al-Jaburi, told the AP news agency that troops had pushed into Tikrit itself.

However, residents quoted by the same agency said militants were still in control.

Since early June, militants, led by the radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have overrun mostly majority Sunni areas in the north and west of Iraq, including the biggest northern city of Mosul.

According to reports, the military carried out three air strikes in Mosul early on June 28.

ISIL-led rebels were on the offensive elsewhere in Iraq, including in Jurf al-Sakhar, some 85 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Police sources said militants had raided an army camp outside the town, sparking fighting that killed at least 60 ISIL fighters and 15 Iraqi security forces.

The government received a boost in its battle against the insurgents with the delivery in Baghdad on June 28 of five Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets.

Iraqi security officials said the five secondhand attack aircraft would enter service within a few days, and that more were on their way. The Defense Ministry said the planes were SU-25s.

The planes are believed to have been bought by the Iraqi government in a deal reportedly worth $500 million.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is under international pressure to form a more inclusive government in order to sap strength from the Sunni insurgency.

Disgruntled Iraqi Sunnis accuse Maliki, a Shi'ite, of excluding them from power.

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, this week called on political blocs to agree on the next prime minister by July 1.

The National Coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi announced on June 29 that it won't attend the session 'unless the political powers put a road map to stop the security deterioration and heal the rift within the country.'

In Tehran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the Iraq conflict a 'showdown between humanity and barbarian savagery' and criticized Western media for portraying it as a war between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.

In an official statement, Khamenei said outside powers have often exploited ethnic and religious divisions in Muslim states and 'they dream of a war between Shi'a and Sunnis' that would not happen.

With reporting by BBC, RIA Novosti, ITAR-TASS, AP, and Reuters


Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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