Islamic State militants have blown up a strategic highway bridge north of Tikrit, as security forces fight their way into the city, Iraqi police said Thursday.

????? ???The bridge is one of the few road links across the Tigris river and its demolition ruptured oil pipelines connecting Iraq’s largest refinery, at Baiji, to an export pipeline in Kurdish territory.

The refinery, some 40 kilometres north of Tikrit, has been out of action since last year when it was the scene of intense fighting between security forces and Islamic State militants.

The move suggests that the jihadists, who still control key territory on both sides of the bridge, are taking a defensive position.

It comes two days after they blew up the only bridge in the Tikrit area to impede a major offensive that has seen security forces and allied Shiite militias recapture parts of the city.

Tikrit lies about halfway between the capital Baghdad and the country’s second city, Mosul, held by Islamic State.

Its capture, which now appears likely to be only a matter of time, will be a key step toward a future attempt to regain Mosul and other northern Iraqi territory seized by the jihadists in a lightning offensive last summer.

GNA

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