World Bulletin/News Desk
Iraqi forces halted an advance designed to retake the hometown of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein on Tuesday after facing fierce resistance from ISIL militants, officers in the operations room told Reuters.
Iraqi forces came under heavy machinegun and mortar fire south of Tikrit, while to the west landmines and snipers undermined efforts to get closer to a town they have tried to retake several times, said the officers.
Resident of central Tikrit said by telephone fighters were firmly in control of their positions and were running patrols along main streets.
In Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency said it was starting a major aid operation to get supplies to more than half a million people displaced by fighting in northern Iraq.
Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shi'ite militias tried to control the centre of Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority.
Sunni Muslim fighters led by the ISIL swept through much of northern and western Iraq in June, capturing the Sunni cities of Tikrit and Mosul as well as the Mosul dam, a fragile structure which controls water and power supplies to millions of people down the Tigris river valley.
However, on Monday fighters from Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region said they had regained control of the hydro electric dam with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
As well as a push from the south, Iraqi forces were advancing only slowly from the west due to land mines and roadside bombs planted by the militants, he added. A police captain confirmed the details of the fighting.
MAJOR AID PUSH
The UNHCR refugee agency said a four-day airlift of tents and other goods would begin on Wednesday to Arbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region, from the Jordanian port of Aqaba. This would be followed by road convoys from Turkey and Jordan and sea shipments from Dubai via Iran over the next 10 days, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
"This is a very, very significant aid push and certainly one of the largest I can recall in quite a while," he told a news briefing in Geneva. "This is a major humanitarian crisis and disaster. It continues to affect many people."
Iraqi government forces put up little serious resistance when the ISIL staged their June offensive, while Kurdish fighters also suffered setbacks until President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. air strikes earlier this month.
Baghdad is now trying to turn the tide after the Kurds said they had taken the dam, easing fears that the militants could cut off electricity and water supplies, or even breach the structure, causing huge loss of life and damage down the Tigris.
Efforts are underway in Baghdad to form a new government that will unite the majority Shi'ites with the Sunnis and Kurds in halting the ISIL insurgency that threatened to tear the country apart.
Sunnis long dominated Iraq until the U.S.-led invasion forced Saddam to flee. He was captured near Tikrit in late 2003 and executed in 2006.Last Mod: 19 Ağustos 2014, 15:17