Iraqi government forces are advancing into Tikrit on several fronts, thereby forcing Islamic State (IS) militants to fall back to the city centre, officials told the BBC:
Soldiers and militiamen have reportedly retaken areas and key sites in the north, south and west, including a police headquarters and a hospital. One militia commander said 75% of the city was under government control. Some 23,000 personnel are believed to be involved in the operation to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
It is the biggest offensive against IS mounted by the government since the jihadist group captured large parts of the country last June. Meanwhile, the BBC has seen video evidence that IS is using chlorine gas as a weapon in Tikrit.
The battle for Tikrit appeared to be entering a critical phase on Thursday, with about 3,000 Iraqi army soldiers making a final push for the city, backed by 20,000 Popular Mobilisation militiamen and a much smaller force of Sunni tribesmen.