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U.S. forces 'win most of Tikrit'

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Tanks stand empty at an abandoned Iraqi military base in Tikrit.

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U.S. helicopters circle the skies as ground troops advance on Tikrit.
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CNN's Brent Sadler and his crew are fired on during the drive into Tikrit.
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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Marines are close to taking Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, a Canadian journalist told CNN Monday.

Matthew Fisher, a reporter for Canada's National Post traveling with the Marines, said U.S. forces were very close to controlling the city, seen as the last bastion of support for the former Iraqi leader.

Fisher said that once the city was under their control, coalition forces would be able to declare the war won. Fisher said he felt U.S. forces were "only minutes, maybe hours from saying this war is truly over."

At Central Command headquarters in Qatar, U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said opposition in Tikrit was "lighter than we expected."

He said U.S. forces had been successful in "isolating" Republican Guard elements in the city so that leaders could not give orders, units were cut off from one another and, in some cases, equipment was destroyed, rendering those forces unable to mount a fight.

Another Central Command spokesman, U.S. Col. Frank Thorp, said, "The battle isn't over yet."

He said fighting had been "localized" but "fierce."

Thorp told CNN's Tom Mintier that contrary to earlier media reports, there were no surrender negotiations taking place between local tribal leaders and coalition forces.

Thorp said there were discussions to that effect earlier, but "the latest report we have is that those negotiations are not going on and fighting continues," he said.

U.S. troops moved into Tikrit about 6 a.m. Monday (0200 GMT), Fisher said.

Al-Jazeera television crews showed low-flying U.S. Cobra attack helicopters sweeping over the city around 8:30 a.m. (0430 GMT).

An Al-Jazeera reporter said explosions could be heard and ambulances were in the streets. He said there was no water or electricity.

The coalition march to Tikrit turned up seven American troops who had been held by Iraqi soldiers. (Full story)

On Sunday, a CNN crew entered the city but quickly retreated when a hail of automatic machine gun fire, apparently from Saddam loyalists, hit the crew's vehicles. (On the Scene)

Saddam was born in Auja, a village south of Tikrit, and was raised in Tikrit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk. This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.


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