Iraqi Troops in Center of Tikrit, Prime Minister Says

 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

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Iraqi forces battled ISIS militants holed up in downtown Tikrit, going house to house Tuesday in search of snipers and booby traps, and the prime minister said security forces had reached the heart of the city.

In a statement on Twitter, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the "liberation of Tikrit" and congratulated Iraqi security forces on their "historic milestone." But an official statement from his office said the troops "hoisted the Iraqi flag" over the Salahuddin provincial headquarters in Tikrit and are moving to control the entire city.

Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the commander of the Salahuddin operation, said his forces fighting from the west were still 325 yards from the center of Tikrit.

ISIS fighters seized Saddam Hussein's hometown last summer during its lightning advance across northern and western Iraq. The battle for Tikrit is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the militants out of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city that is farther north.

Street-by-street fighting raged into the afternoon, and estimates differed widely on how much of this strategic city on the banks of the Tigris River that Iraqi forces held. Army Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati said at least 75 percent of Tikrit had been recaptured. Ammar Hikmat, deputy governor of Salahuddin province, said more than 40 percent was under Iraqi control.

U.S. warplanes on March 25 began conducting airstrikes in an around Tikrit to support the offensive. The military said a latest round or airstrikes in Iraq Monday and Tuesday struck "multiple ISIL buildings," referring to another name by which ISIS is known.

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— The Associated Press with NBC News

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