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First Iraqi troops enter suburbs of Tikrit in battle over city

The first few Iraqi troops have entered the suburbs of Tikrit - Saddam Hussein's hometown - as an operation to seize back control of the city from Islamic State militants gets underway.

More than 27,000 Iraqi soldiers and Shia volunteers launched a three-pronged attack, firing mortars and exchanging gunfire with the militants at three different locations in the bid to liberate the city.

Forces have exchanged fire Credit: EBU
Iraqi troops have now entered the suburbs Credit: EBU

Iraq military bid to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown

A large-scale military operation has been launched in a bid to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown in Iraq, according to The Associated Press, citing the country's state television service.

Tikrit, which is around 80 miles north of Baghdad, fell under control of Islamic State militants last summer along with the country's second-largest city, Mosul.

Ahead of the operation, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the extremist group, promising them a pardon.

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US-led coalition launches air strikes in Iraq and Syria

A US-led coalition has launched seven air strikes in Iraq and two in Syria against Islamic State militants since yesterday morning, the Combined Joint Task Force announced.

Two air strikes involving US drones in Syria near Al Hasakah struck an Islamic State tactical unit and destroyed two vehicles.

In Iraq, the US-led coalition used warplanes and drones to strike near Al Asad, Al Qaim, Kirkuk and Mosul, destroying Islamic State tactical units, boats, a storage facility, buildings and other targets, according to the statement.

RAF 'flies daily missions' supporting Iraqi fight against IS

Royal Air Force Tornado and Reaper jets have flown daily armed reconnaissance missions to support the Iraqi government in its fight against Islamic State militants, the Ministry of Defence has said.

"In the most recent UK military engagement, one of our Reapers provided close air support to an Iraqi unit in combat with Isil terrorists in Diyala province on Friday 13 February," a spokeswoman said.

"The Reaper spotted a machine-gun team firing on the Iraqi troops, and conducted a successful attack with a Hellfire missile. A second machine gun then opened fire on the Iraqis, and the Reaper conducted a further strike with another Hellfire" she added.

Iraq planning 'major offensive' against Islamic State

A major offensive is being prepared to oust Islamic State (IS) from one of its strongholds in Iraq, according to the country's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Iraq's Prime Minister al-Abadi said work had begun on plans to liberate Mosul. Credit: Stefan Wermuth/PA

Mr al-Abadi said work had begun on plans to liberate Mosul, the country's third largest city, which has been under IS control since June last year.

The Iraqi Prime Minister insisted that he did not want the international coalition to supply ground forces but called for more equipment and training for Iraq's military.

Speaking to the BBC Mr al-Abadi said careful plans were being made to retake Mosul from IS, also known by the Arabic name Daesh.

"We are assigning certain army divisions to that task and other security forces and I think that the international coalition air campaign must be very well organised with our own troops on the ground.

"I'm pretty sure that we can liberate Mosul with the minimum of casualties and costs and we can cause a lot of damage to Daesh," he said.

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US-led forces launch fresh airstrikes against IS

US-led strikes against Islamic State in Syria centered on the city of Kobani. Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsa

US-led forces launched 15 airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and 11 in Syria, the US military said.

It added that nine targets in Syria centered around the border city of Kobani that was recaptured from the militants last month.

The strikes in Kobani hit seven of the militants' tactical units and destroyed five vehicles and two staging areas, the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement.

The strikes in Iraq targeted northern areas including al Qaim, Kirkuk, Mahkmur, Mosul and Tal Afar, it said. The strikes took place in a 24-hour period beginning on Friday.

IS crisis 'may last another 15 years', expert warns

Islamic State soldiers have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Credit: Reuters

The fight against Islamic State militants could last another 15 years, according to a former British diplomat in the Middle East.

Sir John Jenkins, who retired as the UK's ambassador to Saudi Arabia this year, warned the threat IS posed was potentially the gravest situation the region faced since the end of WWII.

His comments came as David Cameron said the challenge of Islamist extremism would take "years rather than months" to address.

Sir John, who also served in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Israel during his Foreign Office career, said: "This is probably the most challenging set of circumstances countries in the region, particularly in the Gulf, have faced since the 1960s and maybe since the end of the Second World War."

"I wouldn't be surprised if we were looking at 10 to 15 years of instability and insecurity in Iraq, in Syria, in parts of north Africa."

MPs called for the UK to step up its involvement after a report found Britain is playing a lesser role than other countries and does not have a clear strategy for defeating the terror group.

Obama to request more US military force in fight against IS

President Obama is expected to make the request in the next few days. Credit: Reuters

Barack Obama is expected to ask congress to authorise the US military to use more force against Islamic State (IS) militants.

The President has been relying on congressional authorisations that President George W Bush used to justify action after 9/11.

He has been ordering airstrikes in Iraq and Syria for months but further details are being worked out over what America's next move is.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner said: "The president believes it sends a very powerful signal to the American people, to our allies, and even to our enemies, that the United States of America is united behind this strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy IS."

However, Mr Earnest declined to discuss specific provisions being discussed, such as how long the authorisation will last, what geographical areas it will cover and whether it will allow for the possibility of ground troops.

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