ISIS militants clash with security forces over Iraq’s largest oil refinery
By End the Lie
As much as 75 percent of the largest oil refinery in Iraq is currently controlled by militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after clashes with security forces, according to reports.
“The militants have managed to break in to the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watch towers. This is 75 percent of the refinery,” an official from within the refinery said to Reuters on Wednesday.
Two fuel storage tanks were in flames after hours of clashes, a state oil official said to The Wall Street Journal.
Helicopter gunships operated by the Iraqi government failed to push back an ISIS attack on the facility in Baiji, just 130 miles north of Baghdad, according to The New York Times, citing refinery workers, eyewitnesses and an Iraqi army officer who fled.
However, other Iraqi officials including the commander of the army garrison defending the refinery, said that the fighting was still ongoing and that the facility was shut down.
The government has denied reports that the oil facility was overrun.
The refinery could be a large source of income for the insurgents if they can continue to operate it and sell the fuel, the Times notes.
Still, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki remained optimistic in a televised address to the country. Al-Maliki said he would teach the attackers a “lesson,” even while his government’s soldiers abandoned their posts yet again.
“We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back,” al-Maliki said, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported that the Iraqi military’s chief spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi claimed the military was able to regain parts of Tal Afar, which was lost to insurgents on Monday.
However, they noted that there was no independent confirmation of his statements. Journalists have been unable to access the insurgent-held territories, according to AP.
Al-Moussawi told the AP that government forces repelled the siege and that 40 attackers were killed overnight and early Wednesday.
The attack on the facility began Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday morning, according to a top security official cited by the Associated Press.
The Baiji facility accounts for over a quarter of the country’s refining capacity and was used from 2004 to late 2007 by Sunni militants to finance their operations, according to the Guardian. ISIS has already used their control of oilfields in Syria to fund their operations.
The Baiji facility is used to refine oil for domestic consumption, which means that any long-term outage at the facility could risk electricity shortages and long lines for gas, Fox News reports.
Meanwhile, jihadists continue their march toward Baghdad. Insurgents have already reached as far as Baquba, which is less than 40 miles north of Baghdad, according to the Guardian.