Iraq forces launch helicopter-borne assault on Tikrit

KIRKUK, Iraq (AFP) - Iraqi security forces launched a helicopter-borne assault on Thursday on the militant-held city of Tikrit, seizing control of its strategically located university, officials said.

Dozens of security forces members flew in by helicopter and clashed with the Sunni militants before seizing the university, Salaheddin province Governor Ahmed Abdullah Juburi said.

A senior army officer said the university takeover was an important step in retaking Tikrit, the hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, which was seized by Sunni Arab militants on June 11.

The university is located on the way to the town of Baiji as well as to a military base to the north of the city that have both been overrun by militants.

The militant offensive, led by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant but involving other groups as well, has overrun large areas of five provinces since it was launched on June 9.

The Tikrit operation is the first announced use of helicopters to transport troops directly into combat since the crisis began.

Iraqi security forces folded during the initial onslaught but are now regrouping and performing somewhat better, though they have yet to launch major offensive operations against the insurgents.