Fighting to retake the Iraqi city of Tikrit from Isis has caused around 28,000 people to flee their homes, the United Nations has said.
Tikrit’s few remaining civilians are cutting up white clothes and fabric to make flags of surrender, fearing their Shia liberators more than the militants occupying the Sunni city.
Most residents of Tikrit fled in the months after the extremist group took over in June. The UN said that most of those who fled were heading to the city of Samarra.
“Some people say they would rather die in their own homes,” said 37-year-old Abu Saif, who sought refuge in Kirkuk after leaving Tikrit on Wednesday as security forces, Shia militia known as the Hashid Shaabi and a small contingent of Sunni fighters advanced.
The forces have made gradual but steady progress, slowed by bombs and snipers as they approach from the north, south and east. They have yet to enter the city itself.
Isis fighters have set fire to oil wells northeast of the city to obstruct the assault, a witness said.
The witness and a military source said Isis fighters ignited the fire at the Ajil oil field to shield themselves from attack by Iraqi military helicopters.
The offensive is the biggest Iraqi forces have yet mounted against Isis, which has declared an Islamic caliphate on captured territory in Iraq and Syria.
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