Fighting continued in the center of the strategic Iraqi city of Tikrit on Tuesday, even as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the weeks-long battle to retake the city from the Islamic State group.
Abadi announced the liberation of Tikrit on his Twitter page, saying he "congratulates Iraqi forces and volunteers on the historic milestone." In a separate statement, he said security forces have liberated the southern and western sides of Tikrit and are moving to control the entire city.
A member of Iraq's parliament, Abdul Bari Zebari, told VOA that Iraqi forces have taken the major areas in Tikrit, and that the northern Iraqi city was now under under Iraqi military control.
"It's just a matter of cleaning what's left from their mess," Zebari said of the Islamic State fighters. "In the military, until you completely control it, and you clean all of whatever is left, then it will be the final declaration of victory."
At the Pentagon, a spokesman told VOA the U.S.-led coalition welcomed the news that Iraqi forces were in control of central Tikrit, but she noted that other areas of Tikrit remained under IS control and there was still more fighting to be done.
Iraqi special forces backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes began advancing on central Tikrit last week after days of a stalled offensive.
Analysts said the offensive could take the coalition a step further toward Mosul, the largest city held by the Islamic State militants. Others, however, said it could also deepen already dangerous sectarian tensions in the region.