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Iraqi military steps up mission to retake Tikrit

Iraqi military forces are mounting a major assault to retake the northern city of Tikrit from insurgents, but they continue to face strong resistance.

Heavy fighting between government troops and the Sunni rebels is engulfing northern and central parts of Iraq.

Government forces in Tikrit seized a university that had been occupied by extremists. On Saturday, they launched helicopter attacks and sent in waves of ground troops.

A military spokesperson said the forces initially came under heavy fire, but they have now seized the offensive.

Insurgents are maintaining their resistance with help from local Sunni tribes opposed to the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

A Sunni resident in Tikrit told NHK in a phone interview that most parts of the city are still under the control of the extremists, who are launching a counterattack and trying to shoot down military helicopters.

There are increasing calls to ease the sectarian conflict through the formation of a national unity government. But analysts say there is little prospect of an end to the fighting in the near future.

Jun. 28, 2014 - Updated 21:09 UTC