The Iraqi army, backed by Shiite and Sunni fighters, has begun a major effort to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit from ISIS militants, a likely prelude to a move on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.
Some 30,000 Iraqi troops and militia backed by aircraft pounded jihadist positions in and around Tikrit on Monday in the biggest offensive yet to retake one of the Islamic State group's main strongholds.
"Security forces are advancing on three main fronts towards Tikrit, Ad-Dawr (to the south) and Al-Alam (to the north)," an army lieutenant colonel on the ground told AFP by telephone.
Iraqi forces are also "moving along side roads to prevent Daesh's escape," he said, using an Arab acronym for IS, which has controlled the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein for nearly nine months.
The operation, which is one of the most ambitious undertaken by Baghdad to roll back the gains made by IS last June, began in early morning after being announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the previous evening.
The army officer said the forces involved in the battle were from the army, police, counter-terrorism units, a government-controlled volunteer group known as the Population Mobilisation units and local Sunni tribes opposed to IS.