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US-led Coalition Begins Airstrikes in Tikrit

Imam Ali Brigades, members of of an Iraqi Shiite group, launch rockets against Islamic State extremist positions during clashes in Tikrit, 130 kilometers north of Baghdad, Iraq, March 24, 2015.

The Pentagon says the U.S.-led coalition has launched airstrikes on Islamic State targets in the strategically important Iraqi city of Tikrit.

“These airstrikes are intended to help the Iraqi forces who are maneuvering to liberate Tikrit from ISIL,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told VOA Wednesday, adding that the strikes were conducted "at the request of the Iraqi government."

Warren said the U.S. has gathered intelligence through surveillance over Tikrit during the last several days and is using that information "to develop the targets that we’re striking right now.”

The support comes weeks after Iraqis launched the offensive to take back the city from the Islamic State terror group, an offensive the Pentagon labeled earlier Wednesday as "still stalled."

Iran factor

Analysts have said Iranian forces, not Iraqi forces, were leading the Tikrit offensive at the start. They pointed to the presence of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran which is, in fact, a designated terrorist organization, as proof.

A senior U.S. military official acknowledged to VOA earlier this month that Iranian forces were in Tikrit helping with the offensive, and that as long as the Iranians were there, the U.S. would not get involved.

When asked what had changed, the official told VOA that Soleimani has left Tikrit and that the Iraqis have made it clear the Tikrit offensive is being led, conducted and planned by them and no one else.