Kirkuk: The Iraqi army said Wednesday that its strategy for retaking the jihadist stronghold of Tikrit is to surround the city before launching an assault.
On Monday, the Iraqi security forces and a variety of allied fighting units launched the biggest ground operation yet against the Islamic State group in Iraq.
Backed by jets and helicopters, the 30,000-strong force is moving in from three main directions, their progress slowed by suicide bombers, sniper fire and booby traps.
A senior commander said operations were currently focused on preventing IS from launching more attacks and cutting supply lines to stop reinforcements and weapons from reaching Tikrit.
The next step will be to "surround the towns completely, suffocate them and then pounce on them," Lieutenant General Abdel Amir al-Zaidi told AFP.
Iraqi forces have yet to retake Ad-Dawr and Al-Alam, towns south and north of Tikrit respectively which command access to the city.
He said the operation launched Monday had already achieved results by securing areas further out in Salaheddin province and forcing IS fighters to regroup in urban areas.
"The first phase of the battle to liberate Salaheddin was successfully completed -- and in record time -- by clearing the areas in the east of the province," Zaidi said.
"Our forces are advancing gradually, although slowed by roadside bombs and sniper fire," another lieutenant general involved in the operation said.
Baghdad has tried and failed several times to retake Tikrit since IS fighters seized it in June 2014, as they swept through the country`s Sunni Arab heartland.
Observers say this operation is bigger and better coordinated.
But there are concerns that Sunni civilians trapped in the city could be killed in the fighting or in reprisal attacks by Shiite fighters, deepening sectarian grievances.