29 June 2014
Last updated at 10:49
The Iraqi army tried to advance from the direction of Samarra on Saturday but encountered heavy resistance
Iraqi government forces trying to retake the city of Tikrit from Sunni insurgents have pulled back to a nearby town amid fierce clashes, reports say.
Government troops launched an assault on the city on Saturday with tanks, armoured vehicles and air support.
Eyewitnesses say both sides suffered heavy losses and that the army had to pull back to Dijla, 25km to the south.
The city of Tikrit was captured by Sunni rebels on 11 June as they swept across large parts of northern Iraq.
Heavy fighting took place on Saturday between the Iraqi security forces and armed men from different factions controlling Tikrit, eyewitnesses and journalists told the BBC.
The security forces launched a major attack using tanks and armoured military vehicles supported by air cover and there were many casualties from both sides, the sources said.
Several air strikes were also reported on the rebel-held second city of Mosul
Refugees have continued to pour into Iraqi Kurdistan in order to flee the fighting
Insurgents, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), were reported to have shot down a helicopter and captured the pilot.
The witnesses said the Iraqi forces had been hampered in their bid to retake the city by the large number of improvised explosive devices laid on the approaches to the city.
Earlier in the week Iraqi special forces had been inserted into a position near Tikrit’s university to establish a foothold in the city, but it is not clear whether they have remained.
On Sunday the city was said to be quiet, but witnesses have reported shelling by the security forces.
Earlier the Iraqi government claimed to have recaptured the city and to have killed 60 militants.
Meanwhile, Iraq said it had received the first batch of military jets ordered from Russia in order to help fight the militants.
The defence ministry said five Sukhoi aircraft would enter service in “three to four days”.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, British Secretary of State William Hague called for political unity in Iraq to help fight what he called the “mortal threat” to the state.
“Security operations will only work with strong political support from all elements in Iraq” he said.
Mr Hague’s intervention will add to the pressure on Iraq’s leaders to form a national unity government, correspondents say.
It follows a call from Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Sistani for a prime minister to be appointed by Tuesday – when the new parliament meets – to try to defuse the country’s political crisis.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki wants a third term, though correspondents say he is seen by many as having precipitated the crisis through sectarian policies that have pushed Iraq’s Sunni minority into the hands of Isis extremists.
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