Iraqi forces have retaken a town near Tikrit, as they advance in the second week of fighting for the Islamic State-held city. A coalition of troops and Shi'ite militia members drove IS fighters out of al-Alam on Tuesday.
"We want al-Alam to be the launchpad for the liberation of Tikrit and Mosul," local mayor Laith al-Jubouri told Reuters by telephone.
Islamic State militants seized Tikrit, the capital of Saladin province, in June. Reclaiming the city, which is a geographic bridge between government-controlled Baghdad to the south and IS-held Mosul to the north, would be a major victory against the extremist group in Iraq.
As in recent days, U.S.-led coalition planes heavily bombed Fallujah, Kirkuk and Mosul on Monday and Tuesday in support of Iraqi forces. Additional strikes hit the Syrian city of Kobani.
The coalition has not joined the battle for Tikrit, in which Iran has provided military support to Iraqi forces.
VOA Kurdish service reporter in Iraq, Dilshad Anwar, said the airstrikes have been effective against IS militant targets west and south of Kirkuk, where Kurdish Peshmarga forces launched attacks Monday.
A member of Saladin provincial council, Hassan Mohammad, told VOA Iraqi and Iranian airpower were no match for what the United States and its partners could do.
“If coalition fighter jets participated in the Tikrit fight against IS, the fight would have been more successful," he said.
The head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, is to meet Wednesday with Turkish military officials in Ankara to discuss the ground operation expected in April or May against the Islamic State group in Mosul.
The train-and-equip program signed by Turkey and the United States in February to support the moderate Syrian opposition groups will also be on Austin’s agenda.
(VOA's Kurdish and Turkish services contributed to this report. Some material for this report also came from AP and Reuters.)