Baghdad: Iraqi forces brace for a major offensive to retake control of Tikrit city, as the troops continued to battle insurgent groups across the country, security sources said on Tuesday.
The security forces have been holding control over the perimeter and entrances of Tikrit, 170 km north of the Baghdad, after seizing the areas around the city like Uojah town, lying south of Tikrit, Xinhua reported citing the Iraqi military spokesman Qassim Atta as saying in Baghdad.
"We are coming closer to achieve our goal to enter Tikrit, and our forces are ready within very short period to enter the city, but we also are keen to avoid casualties among civilians," Atta said.
Separately in the northern Salahudin province, Sunni militants, claiming to be from Al-Qaida offshoot Islamic State (IS), carried out attacks to seize the strategic Baiji oil refinery near Baiji, 200 km north of Baghdad, but were repelled by the security forces, Atta said.
Atta said the villagers near Baiji clashed with the IS militants, destroying its vehicles. The army helicopter gunships provided aerial support to tribesmen in the village to resist the invading IS militants, Atta added.
On Monday, armed tribal villagers and local Sunnis clashed with members of the IS in the two villages of al-Zuiyah and al-Meshag in Baiji, driving the militants from the villages, a provincial police source said.
As many as 13 IS militants and 35 others were injured in the clashes that ensued after the militants tried to seize vehicles from tribal villagers here, source said.
In a similar incident, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into a check point and blew it up in south of the city of Samarra, 120 km north of Baghdad, leaving two policemen and two civilians dead, a provincial police source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
Salahudin is a Sunni-dominated province and its capital Tikrit is the hometown of the deposed and executed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
In western Anbar province, an army force carried out an operation in the northern part of the besieged city of Fallujah, leaving seven militants killed, a provincial police source said.
Meanwhile, 13 people were killed and 20 others wounded in artillery and mortar shelling in several neighbourhoods in Ramadi since late Monday night till Tuesday morning, a local medical source said.
On June 10, Sunni militant groups, including those linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS now called Islamic State or IS), took over the key cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as other northern and western parts of the Sunni heartland as Iraqi security forces were driven into disarray when waves of surprise attacks were mounted against them.