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U.S.-Led Coalition Aiding Iraqi Forces In Battle For Tikrit

  • RFE/RL

Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite fighters pose for a photo with a captured Islamic State flag in Al-Alam, northeast of Tikrit, on March 17.

Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite fighters pose for a photo with a captured Islamic State flag in Al-Alam, northeast of Tikrit, on March 17.

Iraqi officials said on March 26 that Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition warplanes have struck an area in Tikrit where Islamic State (IS) militants have been holding out for more than three weeks.

News of the attacks came a day after coalition planes launched their first air strikes against IS targets in the northern city, aiding Iraqi forces fighting alongside Iran-backed Shi'ite militia on the ground.

An Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman, Tahseen Ibrahim Sadiq, said "the Iraqi Air Force with the coalition air force have conducted air strikes targeting the presidential palaces that are the headquarters of IS leaders and groups."

The air strikes "will further enable Iraqi forces under Iraqi command to maneuver and defeat" IS militants in the vicinity of Tikrit, said a statement by Lieutenant General James L. Terry, the commander of the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State group.

The Tikrit air raids marked a significant expansion of the U.S. military role in Iraq.

The United States initially did not provide air support in Tikrit because Baghdad chose instead to partner with Iran in a battle it predicted would yield a quick victory. In recent days, however, the Pentagon has called the Iraqi offensive "stalled."

More than 20,000 troops and allied Shi'ite paramilitary groups have been taking part in the offensive and have suffered heavy casualties on the edge of the city, 160 kilometers north of Baghdad.

The battle for Tikrit -- the hometown of late former dictator Saddam Hussein -- is widely seen as a step toward a more difficult and potentially decisive effort to regain control of the larger city of Mosul, much further north.

Islamic State militants swept across much of northern Iraq and Syria in an offensive last summer.

Several European and Arab nations have joined the United States in what President Barack Obama has called a campaign to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the extremist group.

The air campaign, launched in August, has allowed Iraqi forces to halt the IS advance and retake some territories seized by the militants.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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