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Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militiamen captured a town Tuesday on the outskirts of the ISIS-held city of Tikrit, sealing off Saddam Hussein's hometown in preparation to confront the extremists in one of their biggest strongholds, officials said.Seizing Al-Alam puts the offensive on course to attempt to liberate Tikrit in the coming days, the ultimate battle-readiness test for Iraqi forces now advancing there without the support of U.S.-led airstrikes. Extremists also blew up the Al-Alam bridge to slow the Iraqi force, military officials said.The siege of the village of Amirli just north of Baghdad, when many feared the capital itself might fall, was broken last year with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes and a fighting force of mainly Shiite militias. Shiite militiamen backed by a coalition air campaign also retook the town of Jurf al-Sakhr, on Baghdad's outskirts, from the militants in October. U.S. military officials have said a coordinated military mission to retake Mosul likely will begin in April or May and involve up to 25,000 Iraqi troops.
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