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Enemy fire, booby-traps delay Iraqi forces’ advance in Tikrit

By Reuters - Mar 29,2015 - Last updated at Mar 29,2015

BAGHDAD — Iraqi security forces battled Daesh militants in central Tikrit on Sunday as the United States and its allies provided aerial support and local officials warned that the battle to retake the Sunni Muslim city would not be quick.

"A rapid advance in a city where the ground is littered with bombs and booby-traps is too tough to achieve," said Mayor Osama Al Tikriti.

Daesh fighters, whose goal is to create a Muslim caliphate across the Middle East, stormed into Tikrit last June during a lightning advance in which they seized swathes of Sunni Iraqi territory before finally being halted outside Baghdad.

Complicating matters around Tikrit was a decision by most Iranian-backed Shiite armed groups to boycott the current offensive in protest against the US-led air strikes that began on Thursday at the request of the Baghdad government.

The Shiite militias, aligned with Tehran, have repeatedly said they do not need US support to drive Daesh militants from Tikrit, home city of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The security forces and Shiite militias, who provided the largest number of fighters, began their offensive on March 2 but halted operations after two weeks due to heavy casualties and tensions within the government and with US officials over Iran's prominent role.

The battle remains slow-going. At least 17 security personnel have been killed in fighting and another 100 wounded around Tikrit since Thursday when the US air strikes began, a security officer told Reuters.

On Sunday, an attempt to infiltrate Tikrit from the southern district of Shisheen was thwarted by militants. They used anti-tank missiles to destroy a bulldozer being used by the military to clear a path around booby-trapped roads, an official said.

Fighting to the south of Tikrit underscored the high stakes of the war against Daesh as even areas under government and militia control near Baghdad remain vulnerable to lightning fast attacks by the Sunni jihadist fighters.

Daesh ambushed an Iraqi army and Shiite paramilitary base near Dujail on Sunday, killing six paramilitary volunteers and wounding 14 others, a security official said.

The clashes in the countryside around Dujail, just 54km from Baghdad, lasted until sunset and involved two suicide bombers and machine gunners in pickup trucks.

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