BAGHDAD, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Wednesday carried out operations to seize a strategic highway in Salahudin province, while battles with extremist Sunni insurgents continued in the province, security sources said.
The security forces, backed by armored vehicles and helicopters captured large areas surrounding the highway north of the militants-seized provincial capital city of Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, a provincial security source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The strategic highway links Tikrit to the refinery city of Baiji, some 30 km to the north, which is also under the control of the militants, the source said.
The troops clashed with some insurgent militants when they seized the areas located to the north of the military air base in north of Tikrit, which previously was used by the U.S. forces, known as Camp Speicher, leaving many militants killed and destroying six of their vehicles, the source said.
The offensive is designed to link the troops' presence on the highway near Tikrit to the troops in camp Speicher and Baiji refinery, just outside Baiji city, so that the security forces would be in a better situation preparing for further offensives to recapture the cities of Tikrit and Baiji, the source said.
Wednesday operations came after several failed attempts by the Iraqi security forces to retake control of Tikrit, the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein. The city has been under the control of Sunni militants since June 11.
Separately, the security forces backed by thousands of Shiite militiamen are gathering in areas around the Shiite Turkoman town of Amerli, some 90 km east of Tikrit, which has been under the siege of the Islamic State militants, in preparation for a battle to break the siege of the town amid fears for the residents in the town who are facing acute shortage of food and water, the source said.
Iraqi army helicopter gunships carried out several air strikes against the militants in villages surrounding Amerli, the source added.
Also in Salahudin province, Islamic State militants carried out an attack to seize the town of Duluiyah, some 90 km north of Baghdad, in the early morning hours, but were repelled by local Sunni tribal fighters and local police, leaving at least 14 militants killed, including a suicide bomber, while five of the tribal fighters were wounded by the clashes, the town's police chief Colonel Qandil al-Jubouri told Xinhua.
During the past few weeks, al-Jubour tribal fighters in Duluiyah and the town's policemen have repelled many attacks by the Islamic State militants which tried to capture the town.
The security situation began to drastically deteriorate in Iraq on June 10, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of Sunni militants, who took control of the country's northern city of Mosul and later seized swathes of territories after the Iraqi security forces abandoned their posts in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.