The United Nations says 28,000 civilians have fled to the Iraqi city of Samarra from the area around Tikrit as government forces and allied Shi'ite militia continue an offensive aimed at recapturing Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) militants.
The UN says more civilians are trying to flee the battle, which entered its fifth day on March 6, but remain stuck at checkpoints.
About 30,000 Iraqi securityand Shi’ite militia forces launched the offensive on March 2 against the Sunni-led IS militants, who have had more than eight months to fortify themselves in the hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
UN officials say Sunni Muslims in Tikrit fear revenge attacks by Shi’ite militias following the IS massacre of hundreds of Shi’ite recruits there last year.
The offensive at Tikrit is seen as a necessary strategic step before Iraqi forces can recapture Mosul, further to the north, from IS fighters.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP