Matthew Fisher of Canada’s National Post newspaper told CNN that U.S. forces had launched a “very, very significant attack” on the city’s southern outskirts.
“[Coalition forces have] brought forward a great number of Cobra assault helicopters and there are Marine F-18s [aircraft] overhead,” Fisher said.
Fisher described two “significant battles” that had occurred earlier in the day. “Iraqi infantry came out of their holes to fight the Marines in their light armoured vehicles. About 15 Iraqis died in that exchange, no Americans,” he said.
“Aircraft hit five Iraqi tanks which were on the move,” he added.
The BBC reports that some 250 U.S. armored vehicles have entered the town.
News of the battle came shortly after tribal leaders in the city reportedly offered to surrender if coalition forces ended days of air strikes on the city and its outskirts.
“We are ready to surrender, but let them stop their bombardments. After that we are asking for just two days to persuade the fedayeen (militia) to lay down their arms,” tribal leader Yussuf Abdul Aziz al Nassari said, Agence France Presse reports.
Armed men in the city told Arab satellite network Al Jazeera that tribal leaders “are negotiating with the Americans.”
“We don’t want to fight the Americans,” one man said. “The Iraqi military left the city five days ago.”
Earlier Sunday, Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks told CNN that coalition forces had entered Tikrit and would seek to rout the forces loyal to Saddam said to be taking refuge inside the city.
“We know that there are pockets of, I’ve heard them referred to as everything from paramilitary to death squad to Fedayeen Saddam, we know that there are pockets of that,” Franks said. “And until we have a sense that we have all of the under control, then we will probably not characterize the initial military phase as having been completed and the regime totally gone.”
Franks said during the interview that U.S. forces had met “no resistance” as they moved into Tikrit. News reports at the time also described little resistance inside the city.
More than 3,000 Marines passed through the main arch of the city, located some 100 miles north of Baghdad, at noon local time (4 a.m. EDT), The New York Times’ Dexter Filkins and John Kifner reported.
Central Command spokesman Captain Frank Thorp told NBC that commanders had heard “reports of a lot of Iraqi military equipment sitting there that’s been abandoned.”
Tikrit had long served as Saddam’s base of power and was home to many of his closest advisers. However, Central Command spokesman Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters Saturday that capture of the city won’t necessarily mean an end to the war.
“Tikrit is not the only place where we believe there is a presence of regime forces or regime leaders or regime activities,” Brooks said. “So there would still be work to be done beyond that.”