Iraqi offensive fails to retake Tikrit from armed fighters

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from AlJazeera America,

Iraqi government forces have withdrawn from the militant-held city of Tikrit after their new offensive met heavy resistance, in a blow to Baghdad’s effort to push back Sunni insurgents who have gained extensive territory in the country over the past month.

The setback against fighters who have seized Mosul, Tikrit and other cities in recent weeks came as Iraqi politicians named a Sunni as speaker of parliament on Tuesday. That was a long-delayed first step toward a power-sharing government needed to confront militants who include the Islamic State, a group formerly allied with Al-Qaeda that hopes to create an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

But it is unclear if the election of Salim al-Jabouri as speaker will break the deadlock over Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bid to serve a third term.

Government troops and allied Shia volunteer fighters retreated from Tikrit before sunset on Tuesday to a base 2.5 miles south after coming under heavy mortar and sniper fire, a soldier who fought in the battle told Reuters.

Residents said there was no fighting on Wednesday morning in Tikrit, which lies 100 miles north of Baghdad. It is a stronghold of ex–army officers and loyalists of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party who allied themselves with the Islamic State–led offensive last month.

Pictures published on Twitter by supporters of the Islamic State showed a fighter holding a black flag next to a black armored car it said had been abandoned by a military SWAT team, as well as vehicles painted in desert camouflage — one of them burned out — which it said retreating troops had left behind.

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