Iraqi forces launch push for insurgent-held city

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's government is carrying out its biggest push yet to wrest back ground lost to Sunni militants.

Soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships are trying to retake the northern city of Tikrit.

There are conflicting reports as to how far the military advanced on Saturday in its initial thrust toward Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. Residents say militants are still in control of the city, while Iraqi officials say troops have reached the outskirts and have even pressed deep into the heart of Tikrit itself.

What is clear, however, is the government's desire to portray the campaign as a significant step forward after two weeks of demoralizing defeats at the hands of insurgents led by the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

South of Baghdad, Iraqi officials say heavy clashes between security forces and Sunni insurgents have killed at least 21 troops and dozens of militants. The fight occurred in a town located some 30 miles outside the capital in a predominantly Sunni ribbon that runs just south of Baghdad.

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