Iraqi troops backed by helicopter gunships launched an operation today aimed at dislodging Sunni militants from the northern city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown and one of two major urban centers militants seized in recent weeks in a dramatic blitz across the country. State media reports said the government had retaken the city, CNN notes, but reports conflict, the BBC reports. After watching much of Iraq slip out of government hands, military officials sought to portray the push that began before dawn as a significant step that puts the army back on the offensive.
Tikrit residents reported clashes on the outskirts of the city and to the south, but the extent of the fighting was unclear. Helicopter gunships conducted airstrikes before dawn on insurgents who were attacking troops at a university campus on Tikrit's northern outskirts, an Iraqi military spokesman said. There was no immediate word on casualties. The military has also launched airstrikes on the northern city of Mosul. The semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has shut its borders to those trying to escape the city; CNN cites concerns over a possible humanitarian crisis. (Read more Iraq stories.)