The Islamic State (IS) group is reportedly attempting to negotiate with tribes and local residents in areas controlled by the militants in Iraq's beleaguered western province of Anbar, asking them to allow militants to retreat more easily, according to security sources and tribal elders, Radio Free Iraq has reported.
The report did not say in which area or areas of Anbar the negotiations are purportedly taking place.
The claims came amid reports that Islamic State militants launched a fierce assault on Anbar's provincial capital of Ramadi on March 11.
Initial reports of the attack on the afternoon of March 11 gave different information -- The New York Times reported that militants had detonated 21 car bombs in Ramadi, while Al-Jazeera said seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs were set off by the militants.
Anbar's police chief Major General Kazem Al-Fahdawi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq that the militants had begun their attack at around 5 o'clock in the morning on March 11.
"At the beginning of the attack they sent bomb vehicles to security points," Fahdawi said, estimating that "at least 17" car bombs were detonated.
Most of the car bombs were blown up before the suicide attackers reached their goals, however.
"The drivers were killed and the cars did not reach their targeted points. There are bodies of [Islamic State] militants on the battlefield, the enemy suffered heavy losses in lives and equipment, and things are controlled," Fahdawi said.
The picture that emerged suggests that the Islamic State group has launched one of its most aggressive attacks for months in Ramadi, a city that the gunmen have been battling in vain to capture for months.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Iraq reported on March 10 that Iraqi police forces had taken control of parts of Ramadi's southern sector that had been held by the gunmen, killing eleven militants in clashes. Iraqi forces also blew up seven tunnels leading from the southern sector to the government complex in the center of Ramadi.
The large operation by the gunmen in Ramadi is possibly a dramatic show of force amid reports that the militant group is under pressure elsewhere in the province, and in the neighboring province of Salah Ad-Din, where Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militiamen have advanced on Tikrit.
Iraqi security forces reported gains elsewhere in Ramadi on March 10, with security forces and tribal forces taking control of much of the township of Garma.
On March 1, the office of Salah Ad-Din provincial Governor Raed Al-Juburi announced "the purging of half of Qadisiya district," Tikrit's largest city stretching north of the town center.
A security official at the Samarra Operations Command told the BBC that Iraqi soldiers and the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization (Hashid Shaabi) militia now controlled two-thirds of Qadisiya.
Iraqi forces also captured Tikrit military hospital from Islamic State militants on March 11, raising the Iraqi flag from the building, which is a few blocks south of the presidential palace.
Marwan Jebbara, a spokesman for the Salah Ad-Din tribal council, told Radio Free Iraq on March 11 that 60 percent of Tikrit is now under the control of Iraqi security forces.
"[The Islamic State group] is besieged in Tikrit now, and today Tikrit will be fully liberated from (IS)," Jebbara said.
Jebbara told Radio Free Iraq that the military offensive against the Islamic State group in Tikrit was a "purely Iraqi operation."
"Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the IS group) left booby-trapped houses [in Tikrit] and planted explosive devices in hidden places, but security forces were aware," Jebbara said.
According to Jebbara, Iraqi forces had been able to free several government buildings including the Department of Education building.
Iraqi forces captured the town of Al-Alam, on the northern edge of Tikrit, on March 10.
There is also evidence that Iraqi forces are targeting Islamic State supply lines and training facilities.
Iraqi forces on March 9 reported the deaths of "more than 60" Islamic State gunmen at a phosphate plant in the Al-Qaim area in western Anbar, in an air strike by the Iraqi Air Force in coordination with the Suqur cell of the General Intelligence Directorate. The Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed that the phosphate plant was a supply and training base for Anbar, Ninewa and Salah Ad-Din.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk