Iraqi Official: Troops Launch 'Final Phase' of Tikrit Offensive
by VOA News March 26, 2015
Iraqi troops have launched the final phase of an offensive to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, an official said Thursday, hours after the U.S. launched airstrikes on the Islamic State-held city.
Clashes intensified as Iraqi troops and special forces moved toward the city center, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi told The Associated Press. Earlier Thursday, an Associated Press reporter heard a second round of airstrikes over Tikrit.
In an address late Wednesday, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Iraqi forces began the 'final phase'' in the Tikrit offensive but did not acknowledge that coalition forces were playing a direct role. He said Iraqis, 'and not anyone but you,'' will claim victory against the militant group.
Warplanes from a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Tikrit on Wednesday, after Abadi requested support for a month-old offensive to retake the strategic area.
Iraqi troops and Shi'ite militias had resisted asking for outside air support, but after quick gains outside Tikrit, the effort stalled.
U.S. Lt. Gen. James Terry, who commands the coalition effort, said the airstrikes will better enable the Iraqi forces to oust the militants.
'These strikes are intended to destroy ISIL strongholds with precision, thereby saving innocent Iraqi lives while minimizing collateral damage to infrastructure,' he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
Video released by the U.S. Department of Defense showed blasts on a bridge and in an area along a river.
It said the bridge was controlled by Islamic State militants and said the area along the river was an Islamic State compound.
Under IS control since June
Tikrit is the capital of Salahuddin province, an area located between the capital, Baghdad, and Iraq's second largest city of Mosul that has been controlled by Islamic State fighters since June.
Prime Minister Abadi said in a televised speech to the Iraqi people late Wednesday that what he called the last phase of the operation to take back Salahuddin will succeed.
The U.S.-led coalition has carried out about 1,700 airstrikes in Iraq since August.
Psaki: 'significant impact'
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the bombings have had a 'significant impact' on the Islamic State group, including killing thousands of the militants.
'The cumulative effect of these actions has been enormous,' she said in a statement. 'ISIL can no longer operate freely in roughly 25 percent of populated areas of Iraqi territory where they once could. Its momentum has been blunted, its ability to mass and maneuver forces degraded, its leadership cells eliminated or pressured, and its supply lines severed.'
Iran has trained and armed Shi'ite militias who have been fighting alongside Iraqi forces against Islamic State in Tikrit, but U.S. officials have stressed that the U.S. is not coordinating any military action with the Iranians.
Carla Babb contributed to this report from the Pentagon, some material for this report came from the Associated Press
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