Iraq's army launched an assault Tuesday morning to try to retake the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, an officer and a soldier involved in the attack told Reuters.
The attempt to retake Tikrit, which fell on June 12 to Sunni insurgents led by the extremist Islamic State group, began two-and-a-half weeks ago. The army has been saying for two weeks that its forces are on the outskirts of the city.
Tikrit lies 160 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad. It is a stronghold of loyalists of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and ex-army officers who joined forces with Islamic State to take over large parts of north and west Iraq last month. The officer and soldier said the military attacked from the village of Awja, some 8 km south of the city. The army retook Awja, the birthplace of Saddam, on the night of July 3, and has been trying to push north since.
Heavy fighting broke out in the Shishin district of southern Tikrit, they said.
Government forces retreated when Sunni insurgents overran Mosul on June 10 and swept south to seize Tikrit two days later. Shi'ite militias are now fighting alongside soldiers and police, but there have been few notable victories for government forces since they began a campaign late last month to seize back territory.