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Iraqi Forces Claim Partial Victory Over the Islamic State in Saddam Hussein’s Hometown

Iraq’s prime minister claims the country’s security forces “have reached the center of Tikrit,” but Islamic State fighters still control several neighborhoods in the city.

by Alice Speri
Mar 31 2015, 6:00pm

Photo via Reuters

The Iraqi government claimed a partial Tuesday victory over the Islamic State, saying they have regained control of central Tikrit after a month-long campaign against the militants that was supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias and US airstrikes.

"Our security forces have reached the center of Tikrit and they have liberated the southern and western sides and they are moving towards the control of the whole city," Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Tuesday on Twitter.

Iraqi officials have overstated their gains in the past, however, and the prime minister's remarks indicated that Islamic State fighters still control several neighborhoods in Tikrit. Images circulated on social media showing militia fighters celebrating in the city and posing in front of the presidential palace. The Iraqi flag was reportedly raised over the city's provincial headquarters Tuesday morning.

Related: Iraqi forces advance in the battle for Tikrit, with a little help from Iran

The Badr Organization, a Shiite militia headed by the current transport minister and head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Hadi al-Ameri, released a video Tuesday described as showing the group's operations in Tikrit.

Tikrit, a largely Sunni city that lies on the main road between Baghdad and Mosul, was the biggest Iraqi city to fall under IS control. The militants seized the local governor's headquarters, the main hospital, and other key areas of the city last summer. Saddam Hussein was born in Al-Awja, a town about eight miles outside of Tikrit, and his tomb was destroyed in the campaign to retake the city.

Related: The offensive to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State has stalled — but it's not over yet

US-led coalition forces carried out airstrikes over IS targets in Tikrit earlier this week. The video below, released by Iraq's Ministry of Defense, reportedly captures some of those strikes.

The battle for Tikrit has somewhat controversially led to the US supporting an operation that involves Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The groups vehemently oppose the Islamic State and their brand of Sunni extremism, but they are also deeply anti-American.

Related: Iran claims a US drone killed two Revolutionary Guard members fighting the Islamic State in Iraq

US officials have insisted their support is for the Iraqi government forces fighting in Tikrit — not their allies — though the Shiite militias have been a more significant player on the ground, Reuters reported. The militias publicly opposed the US airstrikes, claiming their forces were enough to defeat the Islamic State.

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi