Smoke rises from central Tikrit, Iraq, during clashes between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State group extremists in the city, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, March 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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Iraqi troops started the final phase of an offensive to recapture Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Thursday, a military official said, just hours after the United States launched airstrikes on the Islamic State-held city.Late Wednesday, the U.S. began airstrikes on Tikrit at Iraq's request and in support of the stalled ground offensive, Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, the commander of the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State group.Late Thursday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Camp Speicher military base near Tikrit to meet with military commanders and be briefed on their progress since U.S. airstrikes began.The top U.S. general for the Middle East said Thursday that Iranian forces and Shiite militia have left the fight and pulled back from Tikrit as a condition to U.S. involvement. Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. agreed to come in with airstrikes under the condition that the militias pull back.
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