Iraqi: Isis Tikrit offensive
A military vehicle, belonging to Shi'ite fighters known as Hashid Shaabi, burns after being hit by Islamic State militants, during clashes in northern TikritThaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

The tomb which once contained the remains of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has suffered heavy damage in the ongoing conflict in the despot's hometown of Tikrit.

The grave has also been levelled, shows footage shot by the Associated Press as fierce fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (Isis) militants continues.

Only the columns which once supported the mausoleum were left untouched while all other parts have been reduced to rubble.

The remains of Hussein were extracted, exhumed and moved to a different location last year fearing the tomb would be damaged in the conflict.

"This is one of the regions exactly where IS militants massed up the most for the reason that Saddam's grace is right here. The IS militants' set an ambush for us by planting bombs around the palace," said Captain Yasser Nu'ma, an official with the Shiite militias, according to the AP – whose crew was embedded with the Iraqi forces under restricted reporting.

Poster-size images of the former ruler which once filled the lavish tomb have not been seen in the pile of debris. Pictures of Iran-backed Shiite leaders and flags of Shiite militias have been placed at the spot.

This is not the first time Hussein's tomb has been damaged. In August last year, IS militants claimed to have demolished the structure though it was contested by Iraqi officials saying only minor damage had been caused.

Retaking the strategically important Tikrit will be a significant boost to the Iraqi forces' morale. This would place the anti-IS campaign in a strong position to push for the main IS stronghold of Mosul, which is ten times bigger than Tikrit.

Ever since the town fell to the IS in June, Iraqi forces had made several attempts to recapture it but failed. The latest offensive is the largest operation targeting Tikrit in which nearly 30,000 anti-IS forces are involved.