Iraq has declared a “magnificent victory” over the Islamic State (IS) group in Tikrit, a key step in driving the militants out of their biggest strongholds.
Defence minister Khalid al-Obeidi made the pronouncement, saying security forces have “accomplished their mission” in the month-long offensive to rid Saddam Hussein’s home town and the broader Salahuddin province of the militant group.
“We have the pleasure, with all our pride, to announce the good news of a magnificent victory,” Mr Obeidi said in a video statement. “Here we come to you, Anbar! Here we come to you, Nineveh, and we say it with full resolution, confidence, and persistence”, naming other provinces under the sway of the extremists.
IS seized Tikrit last summer during its advance across northern and western Iraq. The battle for the city is seen as a key step toward eventually driving the militants out of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
Iraqi forces, including soldiers, police officers, Shiite militias and Sunni tribes, launched a large-scale operation to recapture Tikrit on March 2. Last week, the United States launched air strikes on the embattled city at the request of the Iraqi government.
Recapturing Tikrit would be the biggest gain so far for Baghdad’s Shiite-led government. The city is about 80 miles north of Baghdad and lies on the road connecting the capital to Mosul. Retaking it will help Iraqi forces have a major supply link for any future operation against Mosul.
Earlier yesterday, Iraqi security forces fired on snipers and searched homes for remaining militants. Soldiers fanned out in circles from the charred skeletal remains of the Salahuddin provincial government complex, captured the day before.
Militant mortar fire fell silent yesterday, with commanders saying only a few militant snipers remained in the city.
The objective, interior minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban said, is now to restore normalcy as quickly as possible. “After clearing the area of roadside bombs and car bombs, we will reopen police stations to restore normalcy in the city,” he said.
“Daesh is completely defeated,” he added, using an Arabic name for the group.