Iraqi Forces Pound Besieged Tikrit

Iraqi Forces Pound Besieged TikritIraqi Forces Pound Besieged Tikrit

Iraqi forces Friday battled Islamic State militants making what looked increasingly like a last stand in Tikrit. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers along with volunteer Shiite fighters surrounded a few hundred IS holdouts, pounding their positions with helicopter and artillery strikes on Friday, AFP said in a report.

Two days after units spearheading Baghdad's biggest anti-IS operation pushed deeper into Tikrit, a police colonel claimed around 50 percent of the city was now back in government hands. "We are surrounding the gunmen in the city center. We're advancing slowly due to the great number of IEDs (improvised explosive devices)," he said. "We estimate there are 10,000 IEDs in the city," he said.

Massively outnumbered, the militants are defending themselves with a network of booby traps, roadside bombs and snipers, with suicide attackers occasionally ramming car bombs into enemy targets.

"Six soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in a suicide car bomb this morning in Al-Dyum neighborhood," the colonel said. An army major confirmed the death toll.

Baghdad has rolled back some of the losses. It started by securing the cities of Karbala and Najaf and bolstering Baghdad's defenses, then worked its way north, retaking Diyala province earlier this year.

Commanders see the recapture of Tikrit as a stepping stone to reclaim Mosul further north, which once had a population of two million.