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Iraqi Force Makes More Gains Toward Taking Tikrit From ISIS

Shiite militiamen pose with their banner (right) next to a captured — and upside-down — ISIS flag (left) in Tikrit, Iraq. Militias are bolstering Iraqi forces in a major operation to retake the city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Pro-government forces in Iraq are making progress in the push to take back the city of Tikrit from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS. Iraqi officials say the focus is now on the city's center, and that advances were still being slowed by bombs and booby traps.

Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi visited Salahuddin province, where Tikrit is located, Thursday, saying on state TV that the next phase of the operation is "critical" to the effort to control Tikrit, a crucial step in the government's plan to eventually reclaim Mosul, farther north.

NPR's Alice Fordham reports:

"A security official told Iraqi state television that the city of Tikrit was entirely controlled by pro-government forces. The official, Khalid Khazraji, said ISIS militants had fled from the center of the city, although they had left behind many booby traps and improvised explosive devices. Most of the population has left the city.

"In Washington, Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testified before Congress yesterday that most of the pro-government forces in Tikrit are paramilitary, Shiite militias. Dempsey said the progress against ISIS was positive but reiterated his concern about sectarian violence arising from the taking of Sunni areas by largely Shiite forces."

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