An Iraqi force has begun a large-scale operation to recapture Tikrit, according to state TV. Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, lies between Baghdad and Mosul, a city in northern Iraq that's in the heart of territory claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
The push is relying on artillery and airstrikes, as well as militia that reportedly include both Shiite and Sunni fighters.
The offensive aims to retake territory in northern Iraq that has been claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. It comes less than two weeks after a senior U.S. military official said that Iraq is planning a major operation to retake Mosul, an effort that could begin in April or May.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited troops in Samarra, a staging ground for the operation. Abadi also issued a call for Sunnis to stand with Iraq against ISIS, promising a pardon for fighters who have allied themselves with the extremist group.
The Associated Press reports:
"Security forces have so far been unable to retake Tikrit, but momentum has begun to shift after soldiers, backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition, recently took back the nearby refinery town of Beiji. Any operation to take Mosul would require Iraq to seize Tikrit first because of its strategic location for military enforcements."