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Members of Iraqi security forces and Shiite militia fighters make their way in vehicles from Samarra to the outskirts of Tikrit, north of Baghdad, February 28, 2015. Reuters/Stringer

A top leader of the Shia militias fighting alongside Iraqi government forces to retake the northern city of Tikrit from the Islamic State group said that the militants would be driven out within three days, according to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP). The operation to retake the city had entered a new phase earlier this week, after Iraqi forces recaptured parts of the city without air support from the U.S.-led coalition.

“Their (ISIS militants) number is now 60 to 70,” Karim al-Nuri, a leader of the Badr militia and the spokesman of the paramilitary Popular Mobilization units, told AFP, adding that the militants had been “surrounded from all sides.” So far, Iraqi troops and militiamen have seized several key sites in the city, including a police headquarters and a military hospital. Government troops have also taken control of the oil fields in al-Ojail, another town near Tikrit, according to media reports.

However, their advance in the booby-trapped city manned by ISIS snipers had been slow. According to a Reuters report, which cited a local military source, the troops had decided to halt the operation until reinforcements from “well-trained forces” arrive.

“We do not need a large number, just one or two thousand. We need professional personnel and soldiers,” the source, whose name was not disclosed, told Reuters.

Over the last two weeks, a force composed of nearly 20,000 troops and Shia militias has launched an offensive against ISIS, which captured Tikrit in June last year. A victory for the Iraqi forces in Tikrit, one of the largest Iraqi cities under ISIS control, would provide a major boost to the coalition’s efforts in the region. The town, located between Baghdad and Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, could also serve as a base for further operations in the country’s north.