|Iraqi forces battle to drive terrorists from Tikrit||
Iraqi forces launched an offensive Tuesday to drive Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists out of Tikrit, hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, while the militants warned they would attack Americans "in any place."
Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the rebels after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shia militias fought their way towards the center of Tikrit, a city 130 km north of Baghdad, AFP reported.
"Our forces are advancing from two directions with a cover from army helicopters, mortar and artillery shelling the positions of fighters in and around the city," an army major in the operations room told Reuters.
The Iraqi major said fierce fighting was underway near Tikrit's main hospital 4 km from the city center of the city. "Helicopters are pounding the bases of the terrorists to prevent them from regrouping," he said.
As well as a push from the south, Iraqi forces were advancing only slowly from the west due to land mines and roadside bombs planted by the militants, he added. A police captain confirmed the details of the fighting.
ISIL has concentrated on taking territory for its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq unlike al-Qaeda - the movement from which it split - that has repeatedly attacked U.S. targets including New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.
ISIL threatens to ‘drown’ American targets in blood
However, in a video posted on the Internet warned Americans in English that "we will drown all of you in blood" if U.S. airstrikes hit its fighters. The video also showed a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq that followed Saddam's overthrow in 2003 and victims of snipers.
Efforts are underway in Baghdad to form a new government that will unite the majority Shias with the Sunnis and Kurds in halting the ISIL that threatened to tear the country apart.
UN announces emergency aid for 500,000 northern Iraqis
The UN refugee agency said Tuesday it was poised to mount a massive aid operation for 500,000 Iraqis driven from their homes by rebels, according to AFP.
"In response to the deteriorating situation in northern Iraq, UNHCR is this week launching one of its largest aid pushes aimed at helping close to half a million people who have been forced to leave their homes," spokesman Adrian Edwards told reporters.
The terrorists, who have declared a "caliphate" in a region straddling the Iraq-Syria border, have after two months of violence brought Iraq to the brink of breakup.
To date, the United Nations estimates that 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced by fighting this year, Edwards said ahead of the extraordinary aid push set to begin Wednesday.
"Barring last-minute delays, an air, road and sea operation will begin tomorrow, starting with a four-day airlift using Boeing 747s from Aqaba in Jordan to Irbil, followed by road convoys from Turkey and Jordan, and sea and land shipments from Dubai via Iran over the next 10 days," he said.
Among the initial supplies are 3,000 tents, 200,000 plastic sheets, 18,500 kitchen sets and 16,500 jerry cans.
Edwards said that a key goal was to help those who lack shelter or housing.
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