IRBIL, Iraq — The Iraqi army launched a fresh offensive Tuesday to recapture the central city of Tikrit, seeking to build on the success of U.S.-backed government forces in seizing Mosul Dam, their first significant defeat of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria this year.
Initial reports suggested, however, that the offensive had stalled in the face of stiff resistance from the militant fighters, who had swept into the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein in June with significant support from its residents, who are overwhelmingly Sunni.
American airstrikes had a decisive role in routing the extremist fighters from Mosul Dam, which was fully under government control Tuesday. The recapture of the dam in northern Iraq came after a two-day battle waged on the ground by Iraqi special-operations forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, backed by American bombers, drones and fighter jets.
The U.S. intervention has been confined to areas bordering the semiautonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan that were overrun by ISIS in the first week of August, prompting President Barack Obama to authorize airstrikes to halt the militant advance.
But the intervention appeared to have energized Iraqi forces farther south of the vast stretch of territory across Iraq and Syria conquered by ISIS over the past year. Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias pushed toward Tikrit in a three-pronged offensive starting after dawn Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.
Fighting continued late into the night Tuesday, according to a resident contacted by telephone who reported explosions and gunfire.