Albu Ajil: Thousands of Iraqi troops and militiamen laid siege to jihadist fighters holed up in Tikrit on Thursday, wary of rushing into streets littered with bombs and infested with snipers.
After making major gains in and around the city on yesterday, commanders were confident that Baghdad's biggest victory yet against the Islamic State (IS) group was only a matter of time.
"Now we are moving to the second phase of our plan," Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.
"We are very keen for our losses to be as low as possible. Time is on our side, we have the initiative," he said on the 11th day of the offensive.
None of the fighting forces involved has provided casualty figures since the start of the operation to wrest back Tikrit, the largest since IS captured the city nine months ago.
Dozens of bodies are being driven south to Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf almost every day, however, and, while government forces have had the upper hand, IS has done damage with suicide car bombs, booby traps and snipers.
"We don't want to be rushed because we want to avoid casualties," police Staff Major General Bahaa al-Azzawi told AFP in Albu Ajil, a village from which Tikrit can be seen across the Tigris river.
"Tikrit is sealed off from all sides," he said.
All towns and villages on the eastern bank of the Tigris were under the control of anti-IS forces Thursday, including Al-Alam, Albu Ajil and Ad-Dawr.
Black and white IS flags painted on walls had been graffitied over with slogans cursing the jihadist group or praising Shiite militia groups.
Tikrit is on the west bank and, until military engineering units throw floating bridges across the river, the nearest bridge Iraqi forces can use is in Samarra, nearly 50 kilometres to the south.
Roops and police as well as volunteers from the Popular Mobilisation units moved deep into the northern half of Tikrit on Wednesday and finished securing outlying areas.