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Iraq Forces Push on to Tikrit          03/06 06:20

   BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi forces pressed their offensive against the Islamic 
State group Friday, expecting to reach the outskirts of the militant-held city 
of Tikrit within hours, a day after the extremists reportedly "bulldozed" a 
famed archaeological site in the area.

   The battle to wrest Tikrit --- Saddam Hussein's hometown --- from the 
Islamic State is a major test for the Iraqi forces and allied Shiite militias 
fighting on heir side.

   The governor of Salahuddin, Raed al-Jabouri, said that Iraqi forces expect 
to reach Tikrit later Friday. He told The Associated Press they still have not 
made it to Tikrit's east airport as some reports have suggested.

   Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, has been under the 
control of the Islamic State group since June, when the Sunni militants made a 
lightning advance across northern Iraq, prompting Iraqi troops to flee and 
abandon their weapons.

   On Monday, Iraqi security forces launched a large-scale operation in an 
effort to retake the city from the militant group, but the offensive was 
stalled somewhat, with military officials saying the militants strategically 
lined roads leading to the city with explosives and land mines.

   Meanwhile, the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said late Thursday 
that the IS militants "bulldozed" the renowned archaeological site of the 
ancient city of Nimrud in northern Iraq.

   The destruction is part of the group's campaign to enforce its violent 
interpretation of Islamic law, destroying ancient archaeological sites it says 
promoted apostasy.

   The ministry's report could not be immediately independently confirmed.

   Nimrud was the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that began in 
about 900 B.C., partially in present-day Iraq, and became a great regional 
power. The city, which was destroyed in 612 B.C., is located on the Tigris 
River just south of Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, which was captured by IS 
in June.

   Earlier this week, a video emerged on militant websites showing Islamic 
State militants with sledgehammers destroying ancient artifacts at the museum 
in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city that also fell into IS hands last year.

   The IS extremists' rampage against priceless cultural artifacts has sparked 
global outrage.

   Also Thursday, the IS militants set fire to some oil wells outside Tikrit, 
an Iraqi oil official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not 
authorized to talk to the media. The smoky fires were apparently meant to 
obscure targets from government bombing runs, part of the wide-scale operation 
that began Monday.

   The Ajeel oil field, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) northeast of Tikrit, was 
one of at least four fields seized by the militants as a source of crude oil to 
sell to smugglers to finance their operations.


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