BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias took control of large parts of the Tigris River town of Dhuluiya north of Baghdad on Monday from Islamic State fighters, police and army sources said.
The assault, which began on Sunday and ran into Monday, enabled militia fighters and Iraqi army and federal police to break the militants’ siege of the town 70 km (45 miles) north of Baghdad.
Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, has been trying to push back Islamic State since it swept through mainly Sunni Muslim provinces of northern Iraq in June, meeting virtually no resistance.
“Iraqi security forces backed by volunteers (militias) are controlling central parts of Dhuluiya where the government offices are located,” said Khalaf Hammad, a police captain from Dhuluiya. “Now Islamic State fighters are trapped in small areas in the town’s northwest.”
Islamic State fighters had occupied the town’s northern half since June and surrounded the southern half of Dhuluiya where members of the Sunni al-Jubouri tribe had refused to swear allegiance to the militants.
“Since early morning we have been trapped inside homes. The only thing we can hear is the warplanes bombing and machine gun barrages,” said Bado Ahmed, a resident of Dhuluiya. “We are desperately waiting to be liberated from Islamic State.”
Iraqi police said Iraqi helicopter and fighter planes conducted the air strikes.
The Sunni militants had used neighboring villages to isolate not only the Jubouri tribesmen fighting Islamic State but also to attack the nearby Shi’ite town of Balad.
The new offensive, launched on Sunday, was meant to break Islamic State’s grip around both Balad and Dhuluiya.
The rural areas north of Baghdad between Iraq’s capital and Samarra, a shrine city for Shi’ites, has many Islamic State strongholds.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Ned Parker; Editing by Ruth Pitchford