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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraqi Forces Press Offensive to Retake Tikrit

by VOA News March 13, 2015

Iraqi security forces on Friday pressed on with their massive offensive to retake Tikrit, where fighters from the Islamic State group have reportedly begun to lose ground.

Baghdad officials continue to express confidence they will soon completely retake the city, which has strategic and symbolic value, as the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

As many as 30,000 Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia members have surrounded the city and retaken several areas, though it remains unclear how far the forces have reached.

​​The multi-front offensive, now in its second week, has been slowed by snipers and booby traps set by Islamic State fighters. On Friday, six soldiers were reportedly killed in a suicide car bombing.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, the government says 16 Indonesians - most of them children - have been detained while attempting to cross into Syria to join the Islamic State group. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday that security forces are still looking for another 16 Indonesians reported missing in Turkey.

Cavusoglu also commented on Turkey's detention of a man accused of helping three British schoolgirls cross into Syria from Turkey last month to join the Islamic State group. He said the man is a Syrian citizen who worked for the intelligence service of a country that is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants, but did not specify which of the more than 60 nations in the coalition was employing him.

The U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against the extremist group, which has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria, but the coalition has stayed out of the battle for Tikrit.

About 200 kilometers from Baghdad, capturing Tikrit would give a geographic advantage to the Iraqi government before an anticipated offensive against militants in Mosul in the coming months.

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