Heavy bombardment on IS militants in Tikrit ahead of street battles

March 27, 2015 2:19 am 

TIKRIT, Iraq, March 26 — The U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces on Thursday launched heavy bombardment on Islamic State (IS) targets in Tikrit to prepare the ground for expected street battles to rid the city of IS militants, a provincial official said.

"The airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi aircraft targeted Daash (IS militant group) positions in the presidential palaces in eastern Tikrit and the government compound in the south of the city, as well as sniper positions," Badr al-Fahal, a member of the Iraqi parliament, told Xinhua.

Heavy bombardment also targetted IS positions in the districts of al-Qadsiyah, Arbaeen and the industrial zone, as fierce clashes continued at the city edges, said Fahal, himself a former army officer.

He said that special army and federal police units, in preparation for street battles, will first storm the city to pave the way for hundreds of Hashd Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) militias, including Shiite militias and fighters from Sunni tribes.

Late Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the final phase of the operation to liberate Tikrit and the rest of the northern parts of Salahudin province, with air support from U.S.-led coalition.

Jassim Al-Jabara, head of the provincial parliament's security and defense committee, told Xinhua that operations included an aerial bombardment from Iraqi planes, supported by a U.S.-led coalition, on IS positions in east Tikrit, 170 km north of Baghdad.

He added that the airstrikes also targeted ammunition depots and vehicles transporting heavy machine guns, and killed a number of IS militants.

The battles to liberate Tikrit from IS militants have been stalled for about two weeks as militants planted thousands of bombs and booby-trapped dozens of buildings.

Since March 2, some 30,000 Iraqi troops and thousands of allied Shiite and Sunni militias have been involved in Iraq's biggest offensive to recapture from IS militants the northern part of Salahudin province, including Tikrit and other key towns and villages.

Large parts of the province have been under IS control since June 2014, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and the IS.

The IS group has taken control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces. (PNA/Xinhua)

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