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US Military Head: Iraqi Forces Will Prevail in Tikrit

FILE - Smoke rises as the Iraqi army, supported by volunteers, battles Islamic State extremists outside Tikrit, March 4, 2015.

The top U.S. military officer said Iraqi forces will take back the city of Tikrit from Islamic State militants, but only because of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on his way to Baghdad that the number of Iraqi forces fighting the extremists was overwhelming. But he said he didn't think the Iraqis could have made progress in Tikrit had the militants not been slowed down by the U.S.-led airstrikes.

Tikrit, a major city near Baghdad, is the birthplace of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi officials said they were meeting strong resistance from Islamic State fighters near Tikrit, but Dempsey said it was only a matter of time before the extremists were beaten.

Kerry in Paris

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Paris on Saturday for talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, said Sunni tribes and Shi'ite militias, some of whom were getting orders from Iran, were helping Iraqis in the fight for Tikrit.

Kerry said this did not mean the U.S. was coordinating action with the Iranians. He said the U.S. still condemns Iran for its actions in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.

He said at a news conference, "If Iran kills a bunch of ISIL [Islamic State forces] on the ground and it serves the interests of Iraq and the rest of us, that might wind up helping. But it doesn't mean that we accept in any way their behavior with respect to other things they're doing in Yemen, in Beirut, in Damascus."

Iran has long supported Lebanese-based Hezbollah extremists. It also backs Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria and has aided Yemen's Houthi rebels.

Reports also surfaced Saturday that Islamic State militants had destroyed another historic cultural site in Iraq, the ancient city of Hatra. Residents told news agencies they heard explosions and saw bulldozers demolishing the area.

The militants have infuriated the world by destroying the remains of the ancient city of Nimrud and smashing statues and other works at the Mosul museum, including irreplaceable pieces of Islamic history.

The militants liken the historic art to idolatry, which they say is forbidden in Islam.

Canadian soldier dies

Also Saturday, the White House sent its "deepest condolences" to the family of Sergeant Andrew Joseph Doiron of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, who was killed Friday in a friendly-fire incident involving Kurdish forces in Iraq.

He was the first Canadian soldier to die as part of the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State. Three other Canadian soldiers were wounded.

The Pentagon said an investigation was underway.

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