The Iraqi security forces launched Tuesday a major offensive to free the militant-seized city of Tikrit, the capital of Salahudin province, security sources said.
"The operations dubbed the Cutting Sword have been launched at dawn in Tikrit from Daash," a Defense Ministry source told Xinhua.
The army and police forces backed by tanks and covered with helicopters moved into the city from several routes at dawn and fought fierce clashes with Sunni militants, including those who are linked to the Islamic State (IS), an al-Qaida offshoot, the source said.
"They entered the central part of Tikrit and are fighting to free the rest of the city," the source added.
A provincial security source anonymously told Xinhua that heavy fighting is underway since dawn as the troops were moving from the south of Tikrit toward the provincial government building in central city, while other troops moved from al-Qadsiyah neighborhood in the northern city toward downtown Tikrit.
The offensive came after several failed attempts by the Iraqi security forces to retake control of Tikrit, some 170 km north if the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
On June 11, Militant groups took control of the city of Tikrit when hundreds of gunmen entered the city during the advance of the Sunni militants.
The seizure of Tikrit was part of deterioration in security which started in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh earlier in the month when bloody clashes broke out between security forces and Sunni militants, who have now seized several key Iraqi cities, and large swathes of territories in several Sunni provinces, including the province of Salahudin and its capital Tikrit, the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein.