Iraqi forces re-took northern sections of Saddam Hussein's former hometown Tikrit on Friday and expect to push the militants out of the city "within few days," an Iraqi security official told NBC News.
Tikrit, which is 80 miles north of Baghdad, has been under the control of ISIS group since June. U.S. officials said last month that Iraqi forces need to regain Tikrit before fighting for other ISIS-held cities, like Mosul, given the city's strategic location. Tikrit also is also symbolically significant to ISIS, and losing it would be a major blow to the momentum of the Sunni militant group.
The Iraqi security official said that Iraqi forces had taken back "key positions" in Tikrit after heavy fighting. "Iraqi security forces and the different supporting groups are winning the battle against ISIS in Saladin, it is a matter of time and we will release the news of taking over Tikrit within few days," he said.
The official said that even though "ISIS militants have already lost," the Iraqi forces and government did not want to rush the operation and risk soldiers' lives.
"We are not in a hurry, but we have a plan and we are following it," Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Shi'ite paramilitary Badr Organization told state television, according to Reuters. "Even if the battle drags on for two, three or four days that is okay. We will celebrate the liberation of Tikrit from the enemy," Amiri said.
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— Elisha Fieldstadt