Iraqi government forces and their allied fighters are continuing to advance towards the centre of Tikrit as part of a major offensive to recapture the strategic city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Video obtained by the AP news agency showed troops and Shia militiamen marching alongside Humvees flying Iraqi military and Shia miltia flags in the city.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan said Iraqi officials had told local media on Wednesday that they were confident of taking control of the entire city by the end of the day.
Our correspondent added, however, that the battle for the city was by no means over and that the fighting was continuing “street-by-street” as the Iraqi forces moved closer to ISIL-held areas of the city.
The Tikrit Military Hospital was one of the latest key installations re-captured from ISIL fighters on Wednesday.
In the last few days, Iraqi forces and allied Shia fighters have captured several towns in the outskirts of the birthplace of former president Saddam Hussein, including al-Alam and al-Dour.
Government troops have also reportedly taken control of the oil fields in al-Ojail, another town near Tikrit.
More troops are also reportedly standing by further out, in Samarra and Beiji, as well as outside the town of Garma in Anbar.
Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Sulaymaniyah, said on Wednesday: “The word is that while the Iraqi army is indeed in Tikrit, they have not yet managed to control the entire city.
“What they’ve done is clear the way to the city and clear surrounding areas.
“What we’re hearing is really quite a lot of concern about the damage that is being done and could be done … There are reports coming from politicians chatting to their constituencies that entire villages have essentially been destroyed along the way.”
Our correspondent said those reports could not be independently verified.
Counting on victory
The Iraqi government is hoping that a victory in Tikrit will help persuade Sunnis in other places to rise up against ISIL as the operation proceeds further north into Mosul.
The battle over Tikrit, a Sunni stronghold, is crucial for Iraqi forces in their advance towards Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, which is controlled by ISIL.
Tikrit serves as an important hub because it is on the main highway leading to Baghdad.
But the advance of government forces and Shia militias into Tikrit has also stoked sectarian tensions.
On Tuesday, Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement urging the Iraqi government to investigate and punish anyone using “excessive violence” against the Sunni residents from areas recently liberated from ISIL.
The statement came after reprisal attacks in al-Ojail, where fighters from an armed group, the League of the Righteous headed by Qais al-Khazali, reportedly ransacked and burned houses belonging to Sunni residents.
Al-Khazali had said that his group was working under the guidance of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Brigade, who has been seen directing operations on the eastern flank of Tikrit.
Elsewhere in Iraq, ISIL on Wednesday launched a coordinated attack on government-held areas of the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, involving seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs, police say.
At least 10 people were killed and 30 wounded in Wednesday’s attack, according to initial reports by police and hospital sources in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.
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