Iraqi security forces take part in an intensive security deployment on the outskirts of the city of Samarra, June 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Stringer)
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The Iraqi government launched its biggest push yet to wrest back ground lost to Sunni militants, as soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships began an offensive Saturday to retake the northern city of Tikrit.Residents said militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said troops had reached the outskirts and even pressed deep into the heart of Tikrit itself.Saturday's fighting began before dawn with helicopter gunships carrying out airstrikes on insurgents who were attacking troops at a university campus on Tikrit's northern outskirts, Iraqi military spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said.At the same time, several columns of troops pushed north toward Tikrit from Samarra, a city along the banks of the Tigris River and home to an important Shiite shrine, a senior security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.By sundown, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Abu Ragheef, a commander in the Salahuddin Operational Command, said a column of troops had reached the edge of Tikrit, while another had secured an airbase that previously served as a U.S. military facility known as Camp Speicher.
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