The Iraqi army and Shi’ite militiamen have intensified their assault on fallen dictator Saddam Hussein’s former hometown, Tikrit.
Their strategy, according to security forces, will be to surround the jihadist stronghold, before launching an attack – its biggest ground operation to date against ISIL militants in Iraq.
A 30,000-strong force is backed by jets and helicopters, but is reportedly being hindered by suicide bombers, sniper fire and booby traps.
The pace of the action will now affect plans to recapture Mosul, ISIL’s biggest prize in Iraq. It is thought an assault to recapture that city could begin as early as April.
Since Monday (March 2), the US-led coalition has launched 14 airstrikes on jihadi strongholds in Iraq and Syria, according to a military commander in charge of the operation.
A day later, General Lloyd Austin – in charge of supervising American forces in the area – told US Congress that in Iraq alone, 8,500 Islamic State fighters have been killed since airstrikes began on the country in August, 2014.
The New York Times has since reported that there are obvious tensions between the US and Iraq over how exactly to fight the militant group. It is reported that the offensive to oust ISIL militants from Tikrit was launched without US approval.