The sound of rockets and mortar fire echoed across Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit for a second day, as Iraqi security forces clashed with Isis fighters in their drive to recapture it.
Government officials claimed that three-quarters of the city was now under the control of the Iraqi army, alongside the Shia militia fighters who have been key to the advance against the extreme jihadist group.
Iraq’s Defence Minister, Khaled al-Obeidi, said he expected security forces to reconquer the centre of Tikrit within three to four days. The recapture of Tikrit was “essential to opening a corridor for security forces to move from the south to Mosul”, he said, referring to a planned attempt to try to seize Iraq’s second-largest city from the jihadist group next month.
The BBC has reportedly obtained video evidence that Isis has begun using chlorine gas against the advancing Iraqi troops. The Iraqi government said small amounts were being used in roadside bombs.
Along the route into the city from the army’s command centre, the charred remains of tankers and cars used by suicide bombers litter the roads.
Military officials said they were advancing with caution in an effort to limit damage to the city’s infrastructure, so residents can return quickly once Tikrit is retaken. An overt Iranian role and the prominence of Shia militias has raised fears of possible sectarian cleansing once the overwhelmingly Sunni city is in government hands.