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BAGHDAD - Iraqi helicopter gunships struck suspected insurgent positions in Tikrit on Sunday as part of a government offensive to retake the northern city from Sunni militants led by the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, residents and officials said. The Iraqi military opened its campaign to wrest back Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, on Saturday with a multi-pronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters.
The predominantly Sunni city, a hotbed of antipathy toward Iraq's Shiite-led government, is one of two major urban centers that fell to insurgents earlier this month during their lightning offensive across the country's north and west. The insurgents appeared to have repelled the military's initial push for Tikrit, and remained in control of the city on Sunday, but clashes were taking place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, two residents reached by telephone said. Muhanad Saif al-Din, who lives in the city center, said he could see smoke rising from Qadissiyah, which borders the University of Tikrit, where troops brought by helicopter established a bridgehead two days ago.