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Iraqi troops push 'Islamic State' out of key towns

Government soldiers and tribal militias have driven "Islamic State" out of two strategic towns in one day. The push is part of a large-scale offensive to retake the cities of Tikrit and Mosul from the militants.

Iraqi government forces alongside allied tribal militia have retaken the town of Al-Baghdadi from "Islamic State" (IS) terrorists, the US military said on Friday. The small town on the Euphrates river was of strategic importance because IS had threatened to attack the nearby airbase where US troops train their Iraqi counterparts.

"Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters from the Anbar region have successfully cleared Al-Baghdadi of IS, retaking both the police station and three Euphrates River bridges," read a statement from the headquarters of the US-led coalition against IS, which claimed to have launched 26 airstrikes against IS in the area since they took the town on February 13.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, assisted by Sunni tribes and Shiite militias, have begun to push IS back from the territory the jihadists seized last year in their quest to create an Islamist "caliphate." These allied forces also managed to drive the Islamists out of the town of Dur on Friday, which lies between the government stronghold of Samarra and the IS-controlled city of Tikrit.

"The troops raised the Iraqi flag in Dur," state television said, adding that military engineers were in the process of removing hundreds of explosives that IS had planted inside Dur to hamper the government soldiers' advance.

Dur is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) east of Tikrit, hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.

The focus of the current offensive is to regain Tikrit

, which was overrun by the Islamists last June. Recapturing it would give Iraqi forces a stating area to take back Mosul, the country's second-largest city, which remains under IS control.

The Islamic State group is widely reviled for its brutal tactics - including kidnappings, mass murder, as well as

the destruction of priceless cultural artifacts

in the large swathes of territority in Iraq and neighboring Syria that they have captured since splitting from al-Qaeda last year. But as the jihadists are pushed out of certain areas, concerns have also been raised over sectarian killings committed by Shiite pro-government forces in recaptured Sunni areas.

es/gsw (AFP, dpa)

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