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Iraqi military clashes with militants in Tikrit

BAGHDAD (AP) — Skirmishes broke out Tuesday between Iraqi security forces and militants on the outskirts of Tikrit, a local official and a resident said, a day after the Iraqi and Kurdish troops backed by U.S. airstrikes dislodged Islamic militants from a strategic dam in the country’s north.

The United Nations refugee agency, meanwhile, said it is launching one of its largest aid pushes aimed at helping close to a half million people who have been forced to flee their homes by the violence in Iraq.

The clashes in Tikrit, some 80 miles north of Baghdad, began on the militant-held city’s southwestern outskirts when a military convoy was travelling along the main highway that links Baghdad with the northern provinces, they said. The Iraqi military shelled militant positions inside and outside the city.

Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group have occupied Tikrit and the northern city of Mosul since early June, as well as large parts of the country’s north and west. The militant onslaught has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.

On Monday, Iraqi and Kurdish forces recaptured the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq less than two weeks after it was seized by the militants. The dam is the largest in Iraq and a vital power and water resource for the country.

The gains made by the militants brought U.S. forces back into the conflict for the first time since they withdrew in 2011. America’s renewed involvement on the battlefield was a reflection of the growing international concern over the Sunni extremist group. Washington began carrying out dozens of airstrikes on Aug. 8.

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