Reports say Iraqi troops and Shi'ite militias were seeking to encircle Islamic State (IS) fighters in Tikrit on the second day of a military operation to recapture the city some 130 kilometers north of Baghdad.
A 30,000-strong force has been mobilized for the operation, backed by Iraqi jets and helicopters.
Military commanders said on March 4 that government forces were “advancing gradually,” with progress being slowed by roadside bombs and sniper fire.
Iraqi forces have yet to retake the villages of Al-Dour and Al-Alam, south and north of Tikrit.
An Iranian general was reportedly in the area to help coordinate operations.
On March 3, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran's role in Tikrit could be “positive” if it does not inflame sectarian tensions.
Based on reporting by AFP and the BBC