BAGHDAD // Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighting ISIL took control of the centre of a town on the southern outskirts of Saddam Hussein’s home city Tikrit on Sunday.
Sending in more troops amid fierce clashes for Al Dour, the army and militiamen were still struggling to drive out ISIL militants entrenched in buildings in the western section of the town, officials said.
Military commanders said the army and militia, known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) units, launched another offensive late on Saturday to break into the centre of Al Dour.
By Sunday they had succeeded in recapturing the central area where government headquarters are located, but ISIL insurgents were still holding positions in the west.
“Daesh snipers are still targeting our troops from some of the high buildings. We should be able to take them out with helicopter attacks this evening,” Ahmed Al Yasiri, a Hashid Shaabi leader fighting in Al Dour said referring to ISIL’s Arabic acronym.
Officials said security forces and Shiite militia fighters had also captured about a third of the village of Albu Ajil south of Tikrit.
The campaign to retake Tikrit is the biggest offensive so far against ISIL. If successful, it would be the first time the army and militia have recaptured a major city from the insurgents.
Progress in the offensive, which was launched a week ago, could also affect the timing and strategy for a wider offensive later this year to retake Mosul – the largest city under ISIL control.
It comes as Iraq’s tourism and antiquities minister called on Sunday for the US-led military coalition to use air power to protect the country’s antiquities from ISIL fighters looting and destroying some of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures.
Adel Shirshab said the government was investigating reports that the ancient archaeological site of Khorsabad in northern Iraq was being attacked by ISIL. He said only the US-led coalition could put an end to the pillaging.
“Our airspace is not in our hands. It’s in their hands,” he said from Baghdad. “I am calling on the international community and coalition to activate its airstrikes and target terrorism wherever it exists.”
The militants attacked the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq on Saturday with bulldozers, days after assaulting the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud - both Unesco world heritage sites. Elsewhere in Iraq, authorities say a series of bombings targeting public places in predominantly Shiite districts have killed 11 people around Baghdad.
A bomb exploded near a busy street in Baghdad, killing at least four people in Talbiya neighbourhood, while a bomb went off near a restaurant in Hussainiya killing three people.
Another bomb hit a busy street and killed two passers-by in Madaen, a town 30km southeast of Baghdad.
A parked car bomb exploded in Mahmoudiya, killing three civilians and wounding 17.