World Bulletin / News Desk
Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on Tikrit on Thursday with commandos flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after taking fire from rebels who have seized northern cities.
Witnesses said battles were raging in the city, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, which fell to fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) two weeks ago on the third day of a lightning offensive that has given them control of most majority Sunni Muslim regions.
The helicopters were shot at as they flew low over the city and landed in a stadium at the city's university, a security source at the scene said. Government spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment and by evening the assault was still not being reported on state media.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said fierce clashes ensued, centred around the university compound.
Ahmed al-Jubbour, professor at the university's college of agriculture, described fighting in the colleges of agriculture and sports education after three helicopters arrived.
"I saw one of the helicopters land opposite the university with my own eyes and I saw clashes between dozens of militants and government forces," he said.
Jubbour said one helicopter crash-landed in the stadium. Another left after dropping off troops and a third remained on the ground. Army snipers were positioning themselves on tall buildings in the university complex.
Iraq's million-strong army, trained and equipped by the United States, largely evaporated in the north after fighters led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant launched their assault with the capture of the north's biggest city Mosul on June 10.
But in recent days, government forces have been fighting back, relying on elite commandos flown in by helicopter to defend the country's biggest oil refinery at Baiji.
A successful operation to recapture territory inside Tikrit would deliver the most serious blow yet against a rebellion which for most of the past two weeks has seemed all but unstoppable in the Sunni heartland north and west of Baghdad.Last Mod: 27 Haziran 2014, 11:02